Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
The Jewish Mother - A Hair-Raising Responsibility
The construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was performed by the
most skilled and wisest of men. However the women also had a role in
its construction. "All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom
spun the goat's-hair. (35:26)" While no doubt the spinning of the goat's-
hair was a critical element of the Mishkan, why does the Torah imply
that it required some special measure of wisdom? Skill and dexterity
perhaps - but wisdom?
Rashi explains that an extraordinary level of craftsmanship was required
to spin the goat's-hair, because the women would spin their threads
from the fleece on the backs of the goats before it was shorn - i.e.
off the goat! Sforno explains that after fleece is shorn, the hair loses
of its lustre each time it is handled. By combing and spinning the fleece
straight off the goats while it was still growing, they were able to
preserve much of the lustre that would have otherwise been lost.
This explains the extra level of wisdom required in spinning the goat's-
hair, but it still doesn't adequately resolve why this special craft could
only be performed by women. Aside from this one anomaly, all other
aspects of the Mishkan's construction were performed by men. Surely
there were men who were equally capable of performing the
"extraordinary craft" of spinning the hair. Not that we begrudge the
women their part in the building of the Tabernacle; it's just that if the
Torah dictates that one specific aspect of its construction was performed
exclusively by women, there must be something more to it than just
The great and wise Shlomo Ha-melech (King Solomon) advises: "Listen,
my child, to the rebuke of your father; and do not forsake the Torah of
your mother. (Mishlei/Proverbs 1:8)" We all know the scenario: Father
comes home from a long day at work; mother is standing by the door
to greet him. The look on her face tells him he hasn't come one
moment too soon. Before even removing his galoshes, he's already been
briefed; little Shmueli has been sent to his room for fighting with his
sister, and awaits father's homecoming - in order to receive the thrashing
with which he's been threatened. Thus it comes as no surprise that the
prophet associates "rebuke" with the father. But why does he connect
Torah to the mother? Isn't it the father's mitzvah to teach his son Torah?
Mefarshim (commentators) explain that while it is indeed the father's role
to educate his child in the study of Torah and its laws and ordinances,
it is the mother who creates the atmosphere that permeates the very
walls of the Jewish home. It is her duty to see to it that the atmosphere
be one of Torah, kedushah, and shalom - an environment which
encourages love of Torah and dedication to mitzvos.
In many families, the father spends the majority of his time away from
home; it is the mother who ultimately bears the burden of ensuring that
her children, who spend far more time with her, constantly experience
a life brimming with the love for Torah and mitzvos that they will later
be taught by their fathers and teachers. Observing the attitudes and
reactions of a parent to the daily hustle and bustle of a Jewish home is
a far more powerful and influential source of education than any lesson
learned from a book, and it is this "Torah of your mother" to which King
A Russian oleh (immigrant) to Israel approached a Beis-Din (Jewish court)
with concern: He knew that his mother was Jewish, but he had no
recollection of ever being told whether he was a Kohen, a Levi, or a
Yisrael. His nondescript family name gave no clue as to his tribal origin.
Perhaps, asked the Beis Din, he had some memories of his childhood in
Russia which would offer a glimpse into his lineage? He remembered
very little; but - yes - there was one thing that stood out in his mind. On
the eve of every Yom Tov, his mother would take the children to a local
dry-goods store to buy a brand new pair of socks for their father. He
still remembered the special look on his mother's face when she would
buy the socks; it almost glowed. Later, they would go home, and wrap
up the socks, and wait for his father to come home. When he did, they
would all gather around, and his mother would excitedly present him
with his new socks. "I never understood why she always chose to buy
him socks - you would have thought she might have bought socks one
Yom Tov, a shirt for the next, and maybe pants or shoes after that. We
never questioned her, though; she always bought socks, and the glow on
her face was always the same. I remember it as if it were just yesterday."
Without hesitation, the Beis Din ruled that the man was a Kohen. While
in Israel the Kohanim offer the priestly blessings (Birkas Kohanim) daily,
in the Diaspora they do so only on the Yamim Tovim. One of the
requirements of Birkas Kohanim is that the Kohen take off his shoes while
he blesses the congregation. No doubt, Beis Din reasoned, his mother
wanted to make sure that this special mitzvah was performed in a special
way, so she made sure that each Yom Tov her husband, a Kohen, should
have new socks to wear as he stood and blessed the congregation.
How remarkable. The man, it seems, had no memory of his father
performing the priestly blessings, although he surely must have
accompanied him to shul. But he vividly remembered the anticipation of
his mother as she went out of her way on a busy Erev Yom Tov to
honour a mitzvah in her own special way.
Perhaps this is why the women were charged with the craft of spinning
the fleece directly off the backs of the goats. All other aspects of the
Mishkan's construction involved taking raw materials - gold, silver, copper,
wool, etc. - and using them as the building blocks for the Tabernacle and
its holy vessels. The men were given these tasks, just as it is their
responsibility to take a child - the raw material - and make him holy by
educating him in the laws and lessons of the Torah.
The spinning of the goat's-hair was the only task that required the
materials to be formed, moulded and infused with holiness at their very
source - straight off the backs of the goats. The mother of the house is
referred to in the Holy Tongue as the "Akeres Ha-bayis - the source of
the household," for it is she who brings a aura of kedusha, love for
Torah, and respect for mitzvos into the very foundation of the Jewish
home. Only the women could take responsibility for such an essential
and critical task, which, when performed with wisdom, preserves the
lustre of the Jewish soul.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication is sponsored by R' Yitzchak Goldstein,
in praise and appreciation to Hashem for his Refuah Sh'leima 18 years
ago. May he be blessed with good health and long years.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.