26 Av 5781 / Wednesday, August 04, 2021 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Vayera: Perceptive Women    

Vayera: Perceptive Women

Rashi infers from this week's parsha that Sarah was greater than Abraham in prophecy, therefore Abraham was told to follow her advice...


Women's involvement in society has changed drastically in the last few decades. Their presence throughout the world can be seen in many areas of business, politics, and social welfare. Undoubtedly, their contributions have substantially benefited the world community. Even so, is there a price to their accomplishments?
My thoughts on this subject are drawn from this week's reading. I am not taking sides on whether this change is positive or not (although I feel it basically is). Being equal to men in both work opportunities and pay is surely logical. The subtle issue here is not equality with men but the development of women's unique gifts and talents. Think about it. It's not enough that men made the whole world "meshugah" (crazy)! Why would women compete to be part of a world of "meshugayim" (crazy people)? Seriously speaking, what dangers do lurk for the aspiring women of today's world?
After ninety years, Sarah miraculously gives birth to a boy, Isaac. She puts her heart and soul into raising him and actualizing his greatness. Yet his growth and development are endangered by his half-brother Ishmael. Sarah, in no uncertain terms, tells Abraham that Ishmael's influence will be ruinous for Isaac and that he must be expelled from their home. Abraham's doubts and dilemma about such a drastic step were clarified only through the direct command of Hashem. "All that Sarah tells you, listen to her voice (judgment)." Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, infers from this verse that Sarah was greater than Abraham in prophecy, therefore Abraham was told to follow her advice.
However, this insight is puzzling. Only one time do we find any sort of prophecy to Sarah and this took place in the beginning of this week's reading. Upon hearing from their three visitors that she was going to bear children, she laughed and then denied laughing. Hashem contradicted her and told her "No, you did laugh." This is the Torah's sole recorded prophecy to Sarah as opposed to Abraham who received numerous direct communications from Hashem.
Based on this question the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Yehuda Berlin, 1817-93) explains the nature of Sarah's spiritual greatness and how it differed from Abraham. He explains that there are two types of Divinely inspired communications. One is called prophecy (nevuah) and the other divine inspiration (ruach hakodesh). Prophecy is a direct message from Hashem that is usually publiized and has a direct bearing on the community at large. Divine inspiration is also a message from Hashem but it is takes the form of the insights and clarity of a truly holy and righteous person. Abraham was greater than Sarah in prophecy because he needed to go out to the world and teach mankind about Hashem and to deliver the relevant messages. Conversely, Sarah was greater than Abraham in Divine inspiration. Her more private world afforded her the ability to be deeply in touch with herself and the internal messages Hashem was sending her.
Sarah understood from the depths of her being that Ishmael would cause untold spiritual damage to Isaac. And she divinely intuited that the only course of action was to send Ishmael away from their house. Concerning this perception and awareness Hashem told Abraham to "listen to her voice". That inner clarity gained by years of introspection and meditation reflected the Divine will and subsequently Ishmael was driven from Abraham's home.
Both men and women in today's society are pulled both by the challenges and excitement of the "outside" world and by the necessity for internal peace and reflection of the "inside" world. Sarah, as the matriarch of the Jewish people, bequeathed her spiritual genes to the Jewish woman. The Jewish woman has a remarkable internal sense of what is true and the will of our Creator.
To be in touch with this reality a quiet, tranquil environment is essential. In that setting such spiritual clarity can be achieved.
More than ever the sensibilities of Jewish women is needed. Their spiritual and emotional clarity is essential in these last confusing moments before the coming of Moshiach. However, to access this clarity she needs to find solitude in the midst of the commotion. Success in society can negatively effect the sensitivities of the Jewish woman. Men can also be spiritually desensitized by "success" in the big world but a woman's "Divine inspiration" is more at risk based on her uniquely sensitive soul.
Sarah mothered the Jewish people by blocking those forces which would have destroyed us and enhancing the sanctity of the Jewish people. She was able to do this based on her private, quiet world and subsequent internal perceptions and truths.
Women have accomplished great things for the society at large. But that "success" should not be at the price of diminishing her internal wisdom. Women (and men as well) need to be aware and learn from Sarah how much "their voice" needs to be heard. If we will listen carefully to the voice of our spiritually sensitive women then, with Hashem's help, we will soon hear the voice of the Moshiach and the final redemption.
* * *
Rabbi Dovid Charlop is on the teaching staff of the Neve Tzion Yeshiva in Telzstone, Israel. You can see more of Rabbi Charlop's articles here.

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