The Jewish Woman and Chanukah

chanukah glow

Women are powerful. They have such a wealth of wisdom embedded inside of them, it is incredible. In the story of Creation, women were created last. It is explained that, each new creation was on a higher level than the ones preceding it. As Hashem’s final creation, women are the most closely connected to G-d. Within a women, is great potential and great kedushah (holiness), if only she knew it…

I am currently attending graduate school in New York, on a campus with lots of observant and nonobservant, Jewish undergrads. It happens to be that this week I finally found the kosher paradise that lies inside this international college bubble. I was so excited- sushi, pizza, deli! What more could I want? And on top of that, loads of Jewish undergrads filling the room. How nice! I got my kosher sushi and chopsticks and took a seat at one of the empty cafeteria tables. It was placed not too far from a boy in a kippa sitting next to a girl in leggings, schmoozing over this and that. I was at first, glad to be in proximity of them, enjoying any prospect of being around Jews when in a mixed environment. However, as I sat there, enjoying my food and my break from class, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The boy was rattling on about this relationship and that “hook-up” in an ever-so disgraceful language, to the girl sitting next to him. When he quoted an inappropriate line from a movie, (one I assure you my life would be enhanced by having never heard), she just laughed, allowing the negative usage of female anatomy wash over her. Surely, she could tell this was inappropriate? Surely, she didn’t think it was funny?

Here’s the thing though, I knew that laugh. I knew it well. I went to a big university for college, one with parties and clubbing- the full college scene. There were sororities and keggers, tailgates and mixers. It was a breeding ground for that laugh. But what is that laugh? It comes from the way it feels when a girl wants a guy to like her, or when she wants him to think she’s cool. It comes when one falls prey to being told they’re “too serious” or “too prude.” It comes from being seen as boring or nerdy.

So, I knew that laugh. I’d heard it before. It was the “I don’t want you to think I’m not cool and laid back,” laugh. The one most girls have adopted. The one that makes them pretend that they’re O.K. with the ads of them half-naked, the movies with suggestive humor, and the use of language that was at one time only used by the lowest of low. It was a laugh that let them be “as tough as men,” or as “strong as men,” or as “thick-skinned as men.” It’s the laugh that’s projecting “we are feminist and therefore not weak” onto the world. Here’s the other thing though, standing up for what is right, saying what one really thinks, expressing how one truly feels, is not weak, is it?

Many people don’t know that the story of Chanukah had a heroine. Her name was Yehudis. The story goes, that in the midst of all the disaster being faced by the Jews, with killings and beatings by the Hasmoneans, the Jewish men finally decided the end had arrived. They were ready to give up, for in their minds, there was nothing left to do. When Yehudis heard this, she decided to do something about it. So, she devised a plan. She brought wine and food to the Greek general, got him drunk, and when he fell asleep, she cut off his head. She brought his head out for all to see, after which, the Greeks were distraught and felt defeated.

It was because of this and many other stories of women in Jewish history, that the Jews have continued to exist. These brave Jewish women who fought for the Jewish people when the men gave up, keep us alive today. However, had these Jewish women given in when the men felt it was time to, had they thrown in their caps with the mens, had they “laughed” along with them, the Jewish people as we know it would not exist today.

G-d gave women a special power. This power is binah. Binah is the special intuitive, innate wisdom that women have. And if you’re a woman, you know that innate, intuitive wisdom that I’m talking about. My husband always refers to this binah and says, “what does your binah tell you? You have this gift which will show us what to do.” It is this same binah that Sarah had when she told Avraham to banish Yishmael for fear he would negatively affect Yitchak. It was this same binah that Rivkah had when she told Yaakov to take the birthright from Esav. It was this same binah that Miriam had when she told her father not to separate from her mother and Moshe was born. Without the binah of the Jewish women, the Jewish people would not exist.

Unfortunately, many women today, are ignoring that binah. They are laughing along with the men instead of standing up to them. They are going along with their plans, instead of devising new ones. They are ignoring their own innate wisdom, and perhaps losing a bit of their femininity with that as well. If only they knew of their innate power then they could change the world. If only that girl at that table and all the other girls at similar tables, stood up and said, “I’m a strong Jewish women, and I don’t like that,” then perhaps the world we know would be a little brighter.

On Chanukah, women have been given a special present of sitting with the candlelight for 40 minutes while only the men work. Women are blessed with this gift because of their brave acts in the past. Since, women have an internal light, they sit with the light of Chanukah candles, the light of divination, and let it pour over them. While sitting with this light, they regain their strength, intensify their connection, and hopefully with renewed power, give this light back to the world. Hopefully with this revived light, women can find their femininity, the kind our Jewish foremothers had, and once again change the world. Happy Chanukah.