Thursday, December 23, 2010

Women in Prayer: Part 15, Shemoneh Esrei

Traditional prayer has been criticized by feminists as being male-centric. They’re right; prayer is dominated by mentions of the Patriarchs and mitzvot (commandments) that only apply to men. However, it can be easily be reclaimed by women and turned into a feminist connection to God.

The offspring of Your servant David may You speedily cause to flourish, and enhance his pride through Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all day long. Blessed are You, God, Who causes the pride of salvation to flourish.

אֶת צֶמַח דָּוִד עַבְדְּךָ מְהֵרָה תַצְמִיחַ. וְקַרְנו תָּרוּם בִּישׁוּעָתֶךָ. כִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּינוּ כָּל הַיּום. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', מַצְמִיחַ קֶרֶן יְשׁוּעָה

In this brakha (blessing), called Malkhut Beit David, we pray that the Davidic dynasty will be reinstituted and that Mashiah (the Messiah) will come. The possession of Jerusalem only reaches its spiritual climax when Beit David (the house of David) rules over Israel, and that can only happen when Mashiah is here.

King David’s ancestry is full of women, beginning with Lot and his daughters. When the three were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his daughters thought that the entire world had come to an end. In order to repopulate the world, they got Lot drunk and bore children by him: Moab and Ammon.

Judah and Tamar were the next step. Tamar married two of Judah’s sons, and each died of their own sins. Judah, however, thought that they died because of Tamar’s actions, so he didn’t want her to marry his other son. Tamar, who knew that David would descend from Judah, desperately wanted to be his ancestor, so she pretended to be a prostitute to have a child by Judah. She gave birth to Perez, an ancestor of Boaz.

Boaz was an influential scholar during Ruth’s time. Ruth was a Moabite princess (Moab, like Lot's daughter's son) who converted to Judaism after her Jewish husband died and she stayed with her mother-in-law Naomi. Because the Moabites mistreated the Jews, it is forbidden for them to convert to Judaism. As a result, Ruth’s conversion was questionable. Boaz, however, knew that the prohibition was only for male Moabites, and married Ruth.

Her son was Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose son was David. Jesse was already married with kids when he learned about Ruth’s uncertain religious status, so he separated from his wife, Nitzevet, in order to stop having children. She, however, knew that Ruth was completely Jewish, so she pretended that she was Jesse’s concubine and had David. As a result, everyone assumed that David was illegitimate until Samuel anointed him as king.

The story of Bathsheba and David is infamous. David walked in on Bathsheba as she was bathing, slept with her, got her pregnant, and had her husband Uriah killed. Commentators give explanations that because Uriah was at war they had a provisional get (divorce papers), so they weren’t technically married, and otherwise defend David's actions, but this still doesn’t look good for him.

Solomon also had wife issues. There are three prohibitions for a king, and one is against having too many wives. Solomon ignored this prohibition and married a thousand foreign women. His justification was that if they all brought Judaism to their countries, so many people would be exposed to Judaism that Mashiah would be bound to come. However, instead of bringing Judaism to their respective countries, they brought idols to Israel.

You’re probably reading this post and scratching your head. This sounds so…well…not holy - Lot doing it with his daughters, Tamar pretending to be a prostitute, Ruth’s dubious status as a Jew, David looking illegitimate for years, and Solomon’s wives’ idols taking over Israel…this is supposed to be the lead-up to Mashiah? It is. Satan fights holiness in every form, including the formation of Mashiah, because it is a connection to Hashem. If the Davidic reign and therefore Mashiah came about in a kosher-looking way, Satan would fight against it and it would never happen. However, because it came about in such a non-kosher-looking way, it fooled Satan.

As we say this brakha, we must keep all the strong women who had such strong dedication to the eventual bringing of Mashiah, and pray that such women will continue to exist in these pre-Mashiah times and once Mashiah is here.

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