Rosh Hodesh and Ladies – Parashat Pinehas
Parshart Pinchas is an eventful parsha, where at the beginning Moshe and Elazar conduct a census of Bnei Yisrael and at the end Hashem instructs Moshe about the different holidays. Let us try to understand the connection between these two themes.
The first of the holidays discussed is Rosh Hodesh. Albeit that the Gemara (Arachil 10b) tells us that Rosh Hodesh does not have a great measure of holiness which would necessitate cessation from work, there is an ancient tradition that Rosh Hodesh is a holiday from work for ladies. Indeed, Shulchan Aruch (OH 417) rules that the custom for women not to work on Rosh Hodesh is a correct and proper one. At the same time, the Hida (brought by Sha’arei Teshuva ibid) writes that the custom for men to cease from work on Rosh Hodesh is an ignorant one – minhag borut. Why is cessation from work for ladies recommended but for men degraded?
Rashi (Megillah 22b) explains that Rosh Hodesh is a reward for the ladies not taking part in the Golden Calf. When Bnei Yisrael were planning the construction of the calf, the women were approached and asked to donate their gold jewelry for the cause. The women, realizing that this proposal was inappropriate refused to give away any of their gold. As a reward of their commitment to Hashem and his Torah they were given Rosh Hodesh as a special holy day for themselves.
But why were they rewarded with Rosh Hodesh specifically – what’s the connection between the Golden Calf and Rosh Hodesh?
Each one of the three yearly festivals corresponds to one of our forefathers. Pesach corresponds to Avraham for on Pesach the angels visited Avraham and informed him of the good news that his wife would conceive with a baby boy. Shavuot is associated with Yitschak for the shofar that was blown at the revelation at Mount Sinai was the horn of the ram that was offered in place of Yitschak. And Sucoth represents Ya’akov for we find that Ya’akov built booths (sucoth) for his livestock. Originally, the twelve heads of the months of each year were associated with the twelve tribes. As a result of their sin, the holiday of Rosh Hodesh was taken away from the twelve tribes and transferred to those who did not involve themselves with this incident – the righteous women of Israel.
There is however, a deeper understanding of the connection between Rosh Hodesh and the Calf. The reason the women opted out was a result of their great faith. The faith of the women was unshakable and they did not consider taking part in this great sin. Judaism is based on strong faith. Although faith can sometimes be ‘fuzzy’ it is the women who remain steadfast and pass on their faith to future generations.
Rosh Hodesh celebrates the reappearance of the moon after it wanes to the point of disappearance. Thus, Rosh Hodesh celebrates the concept of perpetuity – surviving life’s peaks and plunges. And it is the woman, who through her steadfast faith ensures our nation’s survival; it is she who ensures that no matter how much we wane, we will always be renewed.
At the beginning of the parsha, Rashi notes that each one of the families counted had a letter ‘yud’ and a letter ‘hey’ attached to their name. This was in order to testify that G-d’s presence (Yud and Hey together assembles G’d’s name) is in each of the families and there was no promiscuity with the Egyptians.
The reason this specific name of G-d is used here is because the Hebrew word for ‘man’ (ish) and for ‘woman’ (ishah) consist of ‘yud’(of the man) and ‘hey’ (of the lady). When they live in harmony, Hashem’s presence (indicated by Hashem’s name) dwells with them. But when rift is prevalent, then G-d’s name leaves the couple and they are left with ‘esh’ – fire. Thus, the letters of yud and hey signify marital harmony and unity and the fact that the Jewish women were loyal to their husbands.
But after a closer glance, we see that each family had a ‘hey’ at the beginning and a ‘yud’ at the end. Why is the name of G-d (yud and hey) spelled in the reverse order?
The letter ‘hey’ represents the lady and ‘yud’ the man, and Israel were redeemed from Egypt as a reward for the righteous women of that generation. Thus, the letter ‘hey’ is places first to underscore that it is due to the woman’s faith and loyalty that the family lines remained untainted.
And that’s the connection between the beginning and end of the parsha – the righteous women always remaining loyal and faithful to Hashem and their husbands and being the pioneers in the emancipation of the Jewish nation.