The leader of the Israelites is not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Making Our Own Choices
Today, we like to make our own choices. We live in a time when almost every institution, every career, every level of leadership beckons us. We swell with pride and optimism as we see women serving in the highest echelons of government, in our universities and in our armed forces, as respected doctors, artists, scientists, teachers, philanthropists. We prepare ourselves and our daughters for lives in which every possibility is open to us. We can choose the life we want to live--except when we cannot.
Except when a 14-year-old girl falls prey to our society's unspoken message to young women--" You are not pretty enough. You are not popular enough. You are not thin enough"-and spends her adolescence battling hateful voices in her head. She may tell you that she chose to watch her weight and eat very little. But in many ways, that choice has been made for her.
Except when a wife endures an abusive relationship, convinced that she is worthless and unable to make her own way in the world. When her husband begins to threaten their children, she finally gathers her courage and flees. Without money or marketable skills, she earns only substandard wages. She may tell you that she chose to go it alone, to work for low pay because she needs a job, to do without health care for herself so that she could provide for her family. But in many ways, that choice has been made for her.
Except when a woman devotes countless eighty hour workweeks to her career and so is only a year or two away from a prestigious promotion when she and her spouse have a baby. When she returns to the office, her appeals for flexible hours, the chance occasionally to work from home, even a private place to express breast milk, are refused. She may tell you that she chose to quit her job and not work in an unsupportive environment, chose the rewards of at-home motherhood over the rewards of professional life. But in many ways, that choice has been made for her.
We find women all around us submitting to pressures and expectations that undercut our right to choose the life we want to live. And yet, the pressures and the expectations that we encounter are not God's will. Whereas Moses' ability to choose his destiny ended when God made known the heavenly decree, our choices should not-must not-be bound by earthly decrees that dishonor and punish women, that teach young girls they are not good enough, that refuse to assist a persecuted victim in need, that force a mother to decide between her career and her child. Acknowledging the injustice of the choices women often face is surely the first step toward changing the pattern.
The product of fourteen years of work and the contributions of more than 100 scholars, theologians, poets, and rabbis—all of them women—The Torah: A Women’s Commentary is a landmark achievement in biblical scholarship and an essential resource for the study of the Bible. For more information or to order a copy, visit URJBooksandMusic.com.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.