And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: [the men among] you should not go near a woman.” Exodus 19:15 | Ayala Deckel
בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: [the men among] you should not go near a woman.” Exodus 19:15

And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: [the men among] you should not go near a woman.” Exodus 19:15 |

Ayala Deckel

In this week’s portion, Yitro, we reach a dramatic moment in our formation as a people: receiving the Ten Commandments – the value base of our nation, our moral compass. When we accept the Ten Commandments, we begin to define ourselves as a people, set apart from the nations around us. 

Anticipating the magnitude of this moment, Moses seeks to sanctify the experience. He asks the people of Israel to prepare by choosing their best clothing and making sure the clothing is cleaned. Moses sets the expectation that people should come as their best selves. He goes on to instruct them further on how to prepare for the holy task of receiving the Torah in the coming days: “And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: [the men among] you should not go near a woman.” Exodus 19:15.

When I read this line, all my anticipation and excitement came crashing down at once. If men cannot come near women during this holy time, does that mean women are not to be present to receive the Ten Commandments? Is it so easy to ban me from participating in this sacred assembly, in this defining moment? Apparently “The People” does not include me. The people who will be standing at the bottom of Mount Sinai to receive the word of God are all men. They will get to stand near Moses, maybe even hear the voice of God, but not me. 

I will be standing at a distance. And not just at this moment. From here on, when I read the Hebrew word “am” (the people), I will know it means only men.

Throughout history, women have been excluded from too many meaningful moments. We are excluded from spaces in which crucial decisions are being made like the current Israeli War Cabinet meetings, for example. Women are too often excluded from spaces in which big dreams and ideas are formed. It is bad enough that it was like that in the times of the parasha, but we can’t accept that it is still the case today. We can’t accept that women are still being excluded from so many important spaces. 

Hayuta Bussel was a pioneer who came to Israel at the beginning of the last century. She wrote in her diary words that speak to us even now. Hayuta wondered about the obligations from which women were exempt. She theorized that women could move toward equality by taking on the obligations that were demanded of men. She believed that women working and fighting side-by-side with men as they were establishing the state of Israel, or women taking on the commandments of the Torah, would lead to women gaining equal rights as well. “I would like to know if women are exempt from all obligations? Does that include guarding and protecting ourselves? I cannot seem to resolve this in my mind. An urge to change it all had awaken in me to resolve all of this” (G.D.Y translation from Bussel’s personal diary entry, 1910.)

Maybe as you read this you are thinking that now is not the time to fight this battle, that this isn’t the time for internal battles at all, including the feminist one. But when you look at this week’s portion and consider it in context of the news of the war here in Israel, who is present and who is absent when decisions are being made, you can see that Hayuta Bussel’s words continue to ring true – today is always the right day to strive for equality and change. 

We can not delay working towards equality and only strive for it in times of peace. We need to make steps towards equality every day. 

Ayala Deckel is the Head of the BINA Secular Yeshiva.

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