B’MIDBAR (Numbers, 1:1-4:20)/SHAVUOS — “Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow!”

 SHAVUOS

Next Tuesday night is the beginning of the Holiday of Shavuos.  Shavuos commemorates the day, 50 days after the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d gave us the Torah.

The People of Israel demonstrated complete faith in G-d.  “Whatever G-d has said, we will do and we will listen!”  (Exodus, 24:7) What they meant was that they would accept all of the Commandments, even BEFORE they understood them.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 88a) tells us that the Israelites were rewarded for their uncompromising faith.  Angels came and wove two crowns for each Israelite.  One crown was a reward for saying, “we will do,” and the other was a reward for saying, “we will listen.”  These crowns were signs of G-d’s love and appreciation.

For more on Shavuos click here or here.

“Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow!”

G-d’s appreciation of His People’s faith waned as their faith waned.  A mere forty days after the first Shavuos, the Israelites lost those precious crowns from G-d.  The People worshiped the Golden Calf, and were no longer deserving of G-d’s favor.

The Nation lost their crowns, and the Firstborn lost their “jobs.”

I have taken the Levites …in place of all the firstborn . . . because every firstborn is Mine.  On the day that I killed the Egyptian firstborn, I sanctified every Israelite firstborn for Myself. (Numbers, 3:12-13)

The Firstborn of each family were supposed to conduct the Temple Service.  They were supposed to be the leaders.  However, when it was time to show leadership, the Firstborn followed the crowd instead.  Only the Levites stood up for the honor of G-d.

The Priesthood was taken from the Firstborn, and given to the Levites.

———————————————————————————-

Reuters listed the story in its “Oddly Enough” column, citing a “ritual ban” by “an ultraorthodox sage.”  (“Ritual ban.” They make it sound like a “fatwa.”) The New York Times, that bastion of Jewish anti-Semitism, examined the human-interest and business ramifications of the ban.  NewsRadio WCBS described a “demonstration” in Brooklyn.  Everything I read or heard in the media seemed to suggest a fringe (pun intended!) fanatic group of religious fundamentalists reacting with intolerance toward the beliefs and practices of others.  Chat rooms all over the web abounded with obnoxious off-color comments and jokes.

What’s going on?  The issue revolves around a temple in India where pilgrims offer their hair to a Hindu deity.  This hair is then sold as a fund-raiser for the temple.  Apparently, some of this hair has found its way into the wigs worn by religious Jewish women.  Rabbinic leaders have declared these wigs unusable, due to having been used for idolatrous practices.

The media are going to town, describing Jewish women in a frenzy, lost without their precious wigs.  The news reporters especially enjoy telling us about group “wig burnings.”  Can’t you just envision the mob scene, as wide-eyed “ultraorthodox fanatics” launch the offensive hairpieces onto the raging pyre?

What IS going on here?  Let’s understand a few points:

1) The Torah requires married women to cover their hair.  This is done for purposes of modesty.  This is not a matter of local custom or a personal choice.  It is Biblical Law, as explained by the Talmud.  For various reasons, this law fell out of practice among certain otherwise-observant groups.  However, the covering of one’s hair is a requirement.

2) There are many ways to cover one’s hair.  Hats, scarves, berets, and kerchiefs are all acceptable.  Among most Ashkenazic women, it has become common to cover one’s hair with a wig.  (Certain Sephardic and Chassidic groups oppose the use of a wig.  The question of using a hair covering that looks like hair is a matter for discussion, but let’s save that for another day.)

3) The Second Commandment (Exodus, 20:3-5) prohibits the worship of other gods.  One of the foundations of Jewish belief is that there is one G-d Who created everything and continues to run the world.  One may not own idols, nor derive any financial benefit from idolatry.  Do not bring any abomination into your house . . . Shun it totally and consider it absolutely offensive, since it is banned.  (Deuteronomy, 9:26)

4) Not every non-Jewish practice is considered to be idolatry.  Many gentiles share our belief that there is but one G-d Who created everything.  However, the Hindu religion is a faith system that is comprised of many gods.  Hence it would APPEAR that an offering to a Hindu god would qualify for the treatment required by Deuteronomy, 9:26, cited above.

5) Women in India are shaving their heads as an offering to a Hindu god.  The shearings from these offerings do not belong on a Jewish woman’s Shaitel. (wig)

———————————————————————————-

Rabbinic scholars have analyzed the question of:

a) Does this activity constitute an act of idolatry?

b) Is one permitted to wear, or even own, a wig made with such hair?

c) If one doesn’t know where the hair came from, need one suspect that it is made of Indian hair?

d) How reliable are the wig suppliers?  Do we believe them if they say the hair is from Europe or China?

e) Are we approaching the time of KOSHER SUPERVISION FOR WIGS?!!

The debate goes on.  At the moment, most religious women are not wearing wigs made with hair from India.  Many companies have gone on record as saying that the hair they use is not from India.  Some women are wearing them; some are not.

Synthetic hair wigs have become more popular.  Kerchiefs are back.  Teachers in my daughter’s school left their wigs at home, opting for alternative hair coverings.

———————————————————————————-

Reuters and the New York Times are amused.  Those who look for any excuse to ridicule Judaism have found a new issue upon which to “hang their hats.”

Unfortunately, they are missing the most important part of the story.

Last Sunday I attended a celebration in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  The synagogue had just acquired a new Torah scroll, written especially for them.  The scribe who wrote the Torah left the last several lines partially written.  The letters needed to have ink added.  This gave the members of the congregation the ability to participate in the writing.

For several hours, people took their turns, handing me the feather quill, authorizing me to act as their agent to write a letter in the Torah scroll.  What had started out as animal hide and ink was being transformed before our eyes.  Something mundane was being turned into something holy.  Our humble actions of putting a few drops of ink in the right place with the right thoughts was bringing holiness to the world.

The final verse was written in the home of the people who had donated the scroll.  Holocaust survivors, these people gave life to the memories of loved ones who perished in Europe.

G-d has given us the ability to bring holiness into the world by virtue of our actions.  He has also given us the ability to bring UNholiness into the world through our actions.  When we serve G-d, we elevate the world around us.  When one participates in a ceremony that denies the Oneness of G-d, it decreases the G-dliness of one’s surroundings.  There is no room in the life of a Jew for something that denies the Kingdom of the One G-d.

———————————————————————————-

Religious women, like every person, want to dress comfortably and appropriately.  Teachers, businesswomen, doctors, and others have become accustomed to wearing wigs when going out in public.  Kerchiefs are fine for the house, but when dressing formally, it is standard procedure to put on a wig.

Do you have any idea how difficult the past few weeks have been for some women?  Let’s put it into proper perspective.  Can you imagine planning to go to a wedding, perhaps your child’s wedding?  Suddenly, the day before the wedding you discover that for some reason, you can’t wear your favorite suit?  No problem!  I’ll wear a T-shirt!

Imagine a businesswoman about to attend an important board meeting.  Or a lawyer scheduled to appear in court.  She’s always worn a wig to work.  Perhaps her clients and colleagues don’t even realize that she wears a head covering.  Now what is she going to do?

I’ll tell you what she’ll do.  She’ll do what the Daughters of Israel have always done.  She’ll ignore the ridicule and do the right thing.

The women of Israel have always inspired their families by doing the right thing.  Wearing appropriate attire isn’t always easy.  Dressing modestly isn’t politically correct.  One of the ways of gaining notoriety in today’s society is by appearing in extreme levels of “dis-dress.” While the rest of the world looks for new ways to show as much as possible, the Jewish woman knows that true beauty comes through modesty and grace.

The rest of the world can laugh.  The Firstborn probably laughed at the Levites.  But G-d expressed His love and appreciation for the self-sacrifice of the Levites.  They did what they had to do and they did it with pride and dignity.

The Daughters of Israel have always shown the same pride and dignity in their service of G-d.  My daughter’s teachers came to school with kerchiefs.  Did they look less formal than usual?  No.  Not at all!  In fact, they looked regal!

The making of a Torah scroll teaches us that our human actions can make the world (and us!) holier.  Worshiping false gods can make the world (and us) less holy.  The personal sacrifice of dressing in a less-than-fashionable way for the sake of G-d is an act of holiness.

When we stood at Mount Sinai and accepted G-d’s Torah without question, every member of the Nation of Israel received special crowns from G-d.  Those crowns were confiscated when the Nation worshiped the Golden Calf.  G-d’s pride in the unwavering faith of His children was dashed when they danced in front of an idol.

What happened to those holy crowns of dedication that our People wore at Mount Sinai?

I think my daughter’s teachers wore them to school this week.

Have a great Shabbos and Yom Tov.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

———————————————————————————-

From the Archives

“Can Familiarity Breed CONTENT?” (2010)

A fellow came up to me in Shul recently and asked, “Why is it so hard to pray with feeling?”

… I studied at a Yeshiva in Israel for six years.  Then I left Israel, not to return for twenty years.  Ten  years ago, I went back…

I went to the Kotel.  The Western Wall, the sole remnant of a magnificent Temple of G-d that the Romans destroyed two thousand years ago; a Temple that we pray every day to see rebuilt.  ATemple over which our People have shed millions of tears for thousands of years.

As Jewish Law requires, I tore my shirt the same way a mourner does at the funeral of a loved one.  I stood there at the ruins of our Temple in my torn shirt looking like a mourner.  But you know what?  Deep down, I didn’t FEEL like a mourner!

I couldn’t understand it.  At the Tombs of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs I was overcome with emotion.  Why was the site of our destroyed Temple different?

I’m a religious Jew.  I pray every day for the Messiah to come and for the Temple to be rebuilt.  I fast every Tisha B’Av, and join my People in mourning for the Temple.   Why did I not feel the same, deep emotions that I felt at those other places?

I don’t know for sure, but I have a theory…

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“How do I Love Thee?  Let me Count the DAYS” (2009)

… Picture a wealthy man sitting in his treasure house counting his money.  How many times does he need to count?  He already knows, from the first count, how much he has.  Why does he continue?

Because he loves his money!!  Every gold and silver coin jingles as it drops back into the money bag.  He is so caught up with his love of money that he just sits there counting it, again and again and again.

That’s how much G-d loves you.  He adores you, His precious and beloved child!  Therefore He counts us, again and again and again.

We, too, have been counting…

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“Hair Today — Gone Tomorrow!” (2004)

… Reuters listed the story in its “Oddity” category, citing a “ritual ban” by “an ultraorthodox sage.”  … The New York Times, that bastion of Jewish anti-semitism, examined the human-interest and business ramifications of the ban.  NewsRadio WCBS described a “demonstration” in Brooklyn.

Everything I read or heard in the media seemed to suggest a fringe (pun intended!) fanatic group of religious fundamentalists reacting with intolerance toward the beliefs and practices of others.  Chat rooms all over the web abounded with obnoxious off-color comments and jokes.

What’s going on?  The issue revolves around a temple in India where pilgrims offer their hair to a Hindu deity.  This hair is then sold as a fund-raiser for the temple.  Apparently, some of this hair has found its way into the wigs worn by religious Jewish women.  Rabbinic leaders have declared these wigs unusable, due to having been used for idolatrous practices.

The media are going to town, describing Jewish women in a frenzy, lost without their precious wigs.  The news reporters especially enjoy telling us about group “wig burnings.”  Can’t you just envision the mob scene, as wide-eyed “ultraorthodox fanatics” launch the offensive hairpieces onto the raging pyre? …

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“Humility vs. Self-Esteem” (2003)

Life is filled with contradictions.  We are told to be humble.  Then the Torah tells us how great we are…

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“Legacy Building” (2002)

I’ll never forget that night…February 14, 1979.  It was the evening when I first met the young lady who would eventually become my bride…

Rabbi Kagan, the leader of world Jewry, was, at the time, quite old. He asked the young man if he was a Kohain. The young man replied that he was not. “Why not?” asked the sage. “Because my father’s not a Kohain.” “Why not?” “Because HIS father wasn’t a Kohain.”

Once the youth was sufficiently confused by the interrogation, the Chofetz Chaim explained his point…

Read more.

———————————————————————————-

“Marching Orders” (2001)

… After the Nazis invaded the small village of Klausenberg, they began to celebrate in their usual sadistic fashion…The officer became enraged. He lifted his rifle above his head and sent it crashing on the head of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe fell to the ground. There was rage in the officer’s voice.  “Do you still think you are the Chosen People?” he yelled.

Once again, the Rebbe nodded his head and said, “Yes, we are.” The officer became infuriated. He kicked the rebbe in the shin and repeated. “You stupid Jew, you lie here on the ground, beaten and humiliated. What makes you think that you are the Chosen People?”…

Read more.

—————————————————————————

This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

——————————————————————————

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

——————————————————————————

If you enjoyed this, send it to a friend.

To subscribe to Torah Talk, send an e-mail to TorahTalk@gmail.com, and type “Subscribe” on the subject line.

To unsubscribe, type “Unsubscribe” on the subject line.

Advertisements
Published in: on May 20, 2004 at 7:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: