This has been a long week of women’s issues, and so I think it is fitting that is the week of a woman’s Parsha. Chayei Sara is the one Parsha that is named after a woman. There are actually multiple women mentioned in the Parsha: Sara, Rivka, Rivka’s mom.
We start with the life of Sara. We find out that she has passed away (according to the Mirdash it was of a broken heart after hearing what Avraham did to Yitzchak). She was 127 years old, again according to the Midrash it was to show that she was still beautiful and practically sin free.
Without going to any of the other details, what else can we see if the book is called The Life of Sara. Maybe it is to show that she was the one that caused everything to happen. It was her that actually created the Jewish people, we don’t have a Parsha or a book called “The Life of Avraham” or any of the forefathers for that matter. It was her, a woman who created the Jewish people. It was her life, her actions that was worth noting.
What would the world look like today if we saw that women have the ability to be actual leaders? What would it be like if we actually gave women their titles and the respect that they deserved for the work that they do? We hear in the texts about Sara making sure that her house was open, she cooks, cleans, greets her guests, but the Midrash also tells us that she taught, and was a leader as well. Maybe she was a leader with Avraham, but maybe she was a leader in her own right, that happen to marry a leader, and so the two of them were able to build together. Or maybe (and this is the easiest way for a modern woman who wants religious power in the Orthodox world to go about it) she was the actual leader, but she knew that she could do nothing on her own for being female, so she married and up and coming leader as a way for her to be able to do what she wants, and maybe even make a bigger name for herself, but no one will question because she is married and she is married to a leader himself.
Which brings me to the next part of the Parsha that many people are talking about. It is the week that Yitzchak find Rivka, well, really the week that Rivka is found for Yitzchak. It is the week of shidduchim. The week that everyone is writing about dating tips, and thinking about love and marriage.
The Parsha tells us a bit about Rivka, that she was nice and fed all of Eliezer camels (yay for nursery school). Eliezer saw this as a sign, spoke to her, even though she was a young girl, and then she decided to leave her family and go with this man to meet her husband.
I was talking to someone this week, as he found it strange that she would just up and leave her family. It was the custom at the time that one would be betrothed, wait a year (mostly because they were not physically ready for marriage yet), and then get married. Rivka didn’t do this at all, she just packed her bags and went.
The caring part of me wants to know what was she running away from? What caused her to break all of social norms and actually just leave her family and life, with what seems like no second thoughts.
The cynical part of me is like of course she just went away to get married. Who wouldn’t? You never know who or what will come next. And it being a world where you are either in your father’s home or your husbands, and you are not really worth anything if you aren’t married, of course you will go to someone who actually seems nice, who cares about anything else.
I am not sure that it has changed so much in 2015. Well, certain parts have- we are not for people getting married at age 12; most of the time people are looking for more than just a nice guy; we are not going from our father’s house to our husband’s like a piece of property. But I think, especially in my community, you are expected to get married. You are treated better by the community at large, and are offered more positions. It is what is expected of a person (which makes it also very difficult for those who have no intentions of marriage).
Having a man by your side gives you power as a woman. I have been told many times that it will be harder for me to get a job if I am single. I know that I will have a much easier time doing what I want to do if I marry a rabbi. But at the same time, I want to believe that I am more than just someone’s spouse. THat I have power in my own right.
I look to the foremothers as role models. I look at their stories and lives, and see what I can learn from them to be a good person, as well as a strong woman. But with that, I hope that I am not like Sara having to marry someone with power so I can have power. And I hope that I am not with Rivka that I am running to marry the first nice guy, just so I can have a ring on my finger.
I do hope that I can be like Sara and constantly have an open home, be a person that people trust, and be able to find a partner that is an equal. I do hope to be like Rivka and be able to care for others even when it might be a burden, and learn to sometimes take a leap of faith.
May all who are looking for a partner be able to find them as easily as Eliezer found Rivka for Yitzchak.