On January 22, 2013, Israel held its latest General Elections without much fanfare. Yet the 19th Knesset will include a record number of 27 women, which is an important step towards equal representation in Israel’s national government for females. It is another demonstration of the power of Jewish women today and showing that a woman’s place might very well be in the Parliament of Israel.
According to a Jan. 24, 2013 analysis by Ofer Kenig of The Israel Democracy Institute:
“Throughout Israel’s history, the number of women who were elected to the Knesset in each election ranged from a low of 7 (1988) to a high of 21 (2009). In the last three elections, there has been an increase in the representation of women in the Knesset. This increase continued in the current Knesset, in which a record high of 27 women will serve as MKs. Yesh Atid will have eight women in Knesset, Likud-Beiteinu will have seven, and the Labor Party will have four. Meretz will have three women representatives and Habayit Hayehudi will have three; Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah and Balad will have one each.”
For many readers, this news may not be very momentous, but it gives us an opportunity as modern Jewish women today to reflect on the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of this accomplishment.
The ancient customs that shape why Jewish women light the Shabbat candles
“Some sources characterize women’s candle lighting as a rectification--a tikkun--for Eve’s sin: just as the biblical figure diminished the light of the world through her sin in the Garden of Eden, women can return light to the world through lighting Shabbat candles.
But there is another way to view candle lighting. Those looking at candle lighting as a reward can turn to kabbalistic sources that view women as the bearers of life and light to the world.” (www.myjewishlearning.com)
The belief that women are the light to the world
Women and men have different roles in religion and in relationships.
It was in Safed, Israel that the single most influential thinker in all of medieval Jewish mysticism emerged, Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572). This Jewish mysticism is known as Kabalah. For Luria and his followers, tikkun olam (repairing the world) had a very specific meaning (George Robinson, www.myjewishlearning.com)
“Every time that a human performs a mitzvah (commandment), she raises one of the holy sparks out of the hands of the forces of evil and restores it to the upper world. Conversely, every time that a human sins, a divine spark plunges down. The day will come, if all do their part, when the entire remaining supply of Divine Light will be restored to the upper world; without access to the Divine Light, evil will be unable to survive and will crumble away to dust.
"For Luria and his followers, the commandment of tikkun olam (repairing the world) takes on a highly specific meaning in which it is through Jewish ritual life that we contribute to the reversal of the shattering of the vessels, ward off the powers of evil, and pave the way of Redemption. Ethical behavior--following the mitzvot, no matter how seemingly trivial--takes on a new, cosmic significance. Forget to say the blessing over bread? You have contributed to universal evil. Put up a mezuzah on the door of your new house? You have helped to redeem the entire world.”
On a spiritual level, it's said that the soul of man needs to share the Light in order to fulfill the Vessel. According to Yehuda Berg, “What men want more than anything in a relationship is the ability to make a woman happy and earn her love,” regardless of whether men are aware of this or not which results in men being action-oriented.
As the Vessel, Kabbalah teaches that it is the women’s job to manage and direct the incoming Light flowing to her from the male soul. The role of women is to respect, support and allow the male soul’s desire to share the Light and fulfill the Vessel.
According to Kabbalistic teachings, it is the women’s responsibility to direct and manage the incoming Light because “she is a revealer of Light. She takes the energy that a man channels — all of his Divine potential — and gives it shape. She is like the glass that gives shape to the water it contains.” (Yehuda Berg)
It is the woman who decides whether to accept the incoming and Light and how to direct that energy when it is offered.”
Women have an important gift to give
Rabbi Bruce Dollin of the Hebrew Educational Alliance in Denver wrote in May 2010:
"Every one of us has a gift to give to the community. Every one of us has a contribution to make that will make a difference. If given with love, with generosity, with a full heart, no matter what it is, it will be accepted and cherished by this community and by God."
As Jewish women, it is essential we honor the vessel of light and goodness within ourselves. We can not give in to apathy or cynicism. We must re-commit ourselves to activism in public policy issues, from Israel to America, and to community service and tikkun olam. After all, over 2012, the global Jewish population grew by more than 88,000 people and reached 13.75 million, according to a study by Professor Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While there may not have been much fanfare around the Israeli General Election last month, those 27 women are standing on the shoulders of Jewish women who have been revealing light and repairing their world for over 5,000 years.