A hallmark of the human experience is feeling powerless and out of control. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.” Things ride us, rather than us riding them – and how we crave the opposite.
It is this lack of predictability and control that drove Bnei Yisrael to make the Egel HaZahav, the Golden Calf: “Where is our leader? We’ve lost control; he’s late!” They demanded something constant, something that wouldn’t abandon them. We see them deify Moshe after the splitting of the sea, when we read that Israel believed in HaShem and in Moshe His servant. (Shemot 14:31) They had deified Moshe precisely to have more control over their controller. The irony is extreme – wanting a God they could control and predict, rather than recognizing that God controls them. This is the very essence of Avodah Zarah.
But the Midrash (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer) tells us that the women did not cave, and would have no part in Chet HaEgel. Aharon bought himself some time by telling them to bring their wives’ and children’s jewelry:
Aharon judged the matter by himself. He said: ‘If I tell Israel to give me their silver and gold, they will bring it immediately. Rather, I will tell them to bring their wives’ and children’s earrings, and the matter will be nullified on its own.’ The women heard, and did not accept it upon themselves, to give their earrings to their husbands. Rather, they said, ‘you want to make a repulsive abomination who has no power to save?!’”
Why didn’t the women cave? What made them stronger than the men?
Additionally, the Zohar states that at Chet HaEgel, women restored damage that Chava had done by eating from the Etz HaDaat, the Tree of Knowledge. What is the connection between Chava’s sin and Chet HaEgel, such that their refusal to participate remedied Chava’s mistake?
Chet HaEgel and Rosh Chodesh
Perhaps the answer lies in the reward the women received for not participating in Chet HaEgel. The Midrash (ibid.) tells us that their reward was special treatment on Rosh Chodesh – a mini-Yom Tov – where they are absolved from all domestic responsibilities.
The Midrash quotes a pasuk from Tehillim (Perek 103) as proof:
המשביע בטוב עדיך,
תתחדש כנשר נעורייך.
“The One Who satisfies your mouth with goodness,
that your youth renews itself like the eagle.”
On a simple level, the connection between Chet HaEgel and Rosh Chodesh is because of the words עדיך and תתחדש – even though in context, עדייך here means “‘your mouth”, and עדי is also a jewel. God rewards women’s “jewels” – the ones they would not hand over – with the ability להתחדש – to renew themselves like an eagle, by celebrating Rosh Chodesh.
But it’s deeper than that. We all know that Chava’s punishment was the pain of childbirth. How did this punishment fit her crime? What was her crime, anyway? Even with the option of eating from every tree in the garden, she wanted the one that God designated for giving full knowledge – and with that knowledge would come power – perhaps as much power as God Himself. HaShem shows a woman, through her monthly cycle, that there can be fluctuation, ups and downs, changes, because we are human, and we have moments where we don’t know everything, and can’t predict when things will turn around.
Only God has full knowledge. A woman learns that she can have faith through the moments of doubt and disconnect, since the highs will come again. Through the pain of a healthy labor, a woman may say many things, but she knows that the miracle of new life is on its way.
The men still needed to learn this. The first step was grasping that Moshe was not a deity. Then, they needed to work on their steadiness through the tough times. The women tried to teach them that; they did not flinch when Moshe “disappeared,” even though they may not have known whether he would return.
The gift of Rosh Chodesh is for their internalization of the cyclical nature of the relationship between man and God. We wax and wane in our understanding of HaShem, just as the moon waxes and wanes. Just as an eagle rejuvenates its wings and feathers, so too can we rejuvenate our relationship with God, to make it young and fresh again.
In the same way that our relationship with God has ups and downs, so does our relationship with our spouse. In Hilchot Rosh Chodesh, the Or Zarua brings Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer’s explanation of Rosh Chodesh as the women’s holiday, and then reminds us that we have the same opportunity for renewal within our marriage, through periods of proscribed separation and reunion. The separation and reunion mimic the natural cycle of feeling close to and distant from our partner. It should remind us that when we are going through crisis in our marriage, we should have Emunah that things will improve. With this Emunah, we turn crises into challenges, opportunities to grow our relationships.
Chet HaEgel could have been a moment to recognize haShem in the fullest way; Moshe was missing, and they should have connected to their Creator without any intermediary. But the men missed that opportunity; they let the saddle be in charge.
The women at Chet HaEgel understood this. They said, “we will use the lesson of the moon, our understanding that we are NOT in control, and that the moon will jump over the cow. We know that even if he may not come back, in some way, we will be ok.”
המשביע בטוב עדיך תתחדש כנשר נעורייך.
Just as an eagle experiences renewal of its wings and feathers, so shall we.
Rabbanit Atara Eis,a member of Beit Hillel, is Director of Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center’s U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program, and teaches at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim. She has previously taught at Midreshet Lindenbaum and Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia, PA, and served as Yoetzet Halacha in Philadelphia and Silver Spring, MD, as well as at a consortium of Manhattan synagogues.
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