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Friday, February 5, 2010

Parshat Yitro: The Voices of the Women at Sinai

This week's parashah (portion) is Yitro (Shemot/Exodus 18:1-20:23). It begins with the return of Yitro/Jethro, described in the text as "Moses' father-in-law" and not as Zipporah's father). He comes to Moses with his wife Zipporah and their sons. Upon arriving, the two men embrace. But we read of no reunion between Moses and Zipporah.

Later, after Yitro advises Moses on how to better govern the people by choosing able and honest men to help him, the people arrive at Mount Sinai and prepare to receive the word of God. Then, in one of the Torah's most dramatic of moments, God speaks the Ten Commandments (literally, the 'ten utterances') from the mountain. But before God speaks to the people, God instructs Moses on how the people must prepare themselves for revelation:

And God said to Moses, “Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes. Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Eternal will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai "

Moses came down from the Mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure and he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; Do not go near a woman.”

From the ‘non-reunion’ of Moses and Tzipporah through these verses and beyond, women are either forgotten or excluded from the entire narrative. Throughout the past decades many writers, mostly women, have added the voices of the women back to the story. As a man who considers himself to be a feminist, I would like to add my voice to those who have attempted to rediscover women’s voices in the text. I cannot presume to know how a woman might have felt being excluded from the community. It is true that as a Jew and as a gay man I know what it feels like to be excluded. However, as a man, and particularly a white man, I am still part of the oppressive pseudo-majority, regardless of my own personal beliefs. So I believe it is my duty to try my best to do discover the women's voices within me as my own kind of tikun/repair to the brokenness that we have created.

Shabbat Shalom,


The Words of the Women at Sinai

Dedicated to Judith Plaskow, Merle Feld, R. Jill Hammer, R. Ruth Sohn, R. Elyse Goldstein, R. Sue Levi Elwell and so many others who have given voice to the women of the Torah. May we all, men and women alike, continue to discover the voices of those who have been forgotten, oppressed and marginalized within our tradition - as well as other traditions - throughout history and until this day. Only then can we truly say that God will be One and God's name One for us all.

I am Zipporah

I am my beloved's

My beloved is mine


I was my father's

I am now my husband's

No one is mine

I do not exist


Joyous reunion

I am not there

The men embrace

Father-in-law to Son-in-law

Ignoring the essential ingredient


Of their relationship

Without daughterwife

They are nothing

But two strangers

They do not care



With each other

I am indispensable dispensable

I am only the mother of boys

Who will grow

To be

Like them


I am Miriam

I am a prophetess

A visionary

It says so in the Torah


You must not come near

I am impure

I am polluting

I am powerful

Do not come near

Do not touch me

Do not touch my fruit

Lest your spirit die

Leaving you

Unable to receive




We are women


For giving birth

Raising sons

Saving brothers from death


To lead the women in song


To lead us all to freedom

We remain behind

With the children

The others


in the margins


the men


To clean up

We are sisters


At Sinai


God's voice



We call to you

The men

We challenge you

To come near

To embrace us


We can



The Divine voice


Prepare for the third day

Do not go near a woman

Those words

Not from God

From Moses

We do not

Hear them

We do not

Recognize them

They have

No power

Unless we will it


to us


to God

Pay Attention

We cry out

To them

In vain

They do not hear


They only hear


and him


We join together

As One

As sisters

As always

Far from the noise

The thunder

The lightning

Clear of all

The smoke

The men


We can hear

The small voice

The True Voice

From behind the clouds

Within us

The voice

They will never hear

Unless they listen

With their hearts

Not their ears

With Love

Not fear


Not trembling

So much we can teach them

If they would only listen

Let us in

Perhaps some day


We will all receive




Forever standing


At Sinai

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