This week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, is one that may be familiar to most of us. It’s the early story of Joseph and his relationship with his brothers, his dreams, and his coat of many colors. It’s also the story of Tamar and her father in law, Judah, and finally Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. All three of these subplots deal with clothing or garments and deception.
I am especially drawn to the story of Tamar and Judah. Judah is one of Joseph’s brothers. Judah arranges for Tamar to marry one of his sons, Er. Er dies and she is then given to his brother Onan, who also dies. Judah promises her that she will be given to the third son, Shelah, when he grows up. As time goes by and Shelah is now grown, she realizes that Judah will never allow them to marry. Tamar feels that it is her right to bear children in Judah’s line so she takes matters into her own hands. Tamar puts on a veil and dresses as a prostitute and tricks Judah into lying with her so she can have a child. She asks him to leave her proof of his identity. Judah leaves her his signet seal, cords and staff. When he finds out she is pregnant, he wants to burn her but she is able to prove that he is the father because she still has his things.
Tamar dresses like a prostitute but she uses a veil so that Judah doesn’t recognize her. She wears a mask to shield who she really is. Many of us wear masks all the time. The roles we play in our day to day jobs may not necessarily be the same as the role we play at home. They may both be different from our leadership role. Masks can be about self-preservation.
Each woman that comes into one of our sisterhoods or women’s groups comes in for the first time unsure of what her role is. We don’t know what mask she may be wearing. It’s important that we don’t judge. Each woman is a product of her own personal history. Without knowing her story, you have no idea how to walk in her shoes. Until she is truly comfortable, she may continue to wear that mask of self-preservation.
The quiet woman who doesn’t say much may be brilliant but slightly intimidated by the group. You need to find a way to draw her out. She has great leadership potential because she listens before she forms an opinion. The woman who feels the need to control everything may be afraid of losing her own control. Teach her how to delegate so she can learn to be a better leader. The woman who seems to be so hard, may just be protecting herself because of her own insecurities. Help her feel good about herself so she can be a better leader.
We need to take the time to really get to know each of our women, to help them strip away their masks to uncover the roles that they are meant to fill. Each one of them has value. Each one has something special that can help propel our sisterhoods or women’s groups forward if we take the time to figure out what it is. Lift the veil to see what lies beneath. You never know who you might find.
Denise Levine is the Immediate Past President of WRJ Northeast District and a member of the WRJ Board of Directors. She is a member of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, Florida.