Beis Moshiach Magazine/Written by Rabbi Daniel Green
Sticks and stones may break one’s bones… and mics can be worse. Indeed, the mic drop controversy has taken the Chabad world by storm, and although many rabbinic authorities have weighed in on the issue, revealing the Halachicly reprehensive nature of the public speaking forum, a little clarification is required.
First of all, what exactly is so bad about dropping a microphone? Is this the biggest problem we are facing today in the Chassidic community, some have asked, that prompted rabbis to protest? What, then, is the Talmudic precedent to the criticism? The Talmud does not mention microphones anywhere, at least to the best of my knowledge.
Well, not mics, but sandals. Women, or rather, one woman, who not only dropped, but slammed down her sandal. And this was way before mics.
And if the figuratively dropping of a mic means “to do or say something decisive, meaningful, or impressive”, Wiktionary) – and indeed, deliberately dropping anything has an effect, conveying that the dropper attempts to make a powerful or telling statement – then this rather presumptuous young woman of Mishnaic fame, or rather, infamy, did just that. With her footgear.
The First Mic-Drop in History
A woman of priestly descent, Talmudicly identified as Miriam bas Bilga, abandoned her Jewish roots entirely, Heaven forfend, converting to an idolatrous faith and marrying a Greek official, and then accompanied the enemy forces as they stormed the Beis Hamikdosh. During the mayhem and defilement, she ascended the Mizbeiyach, with great contempt, certainly not adorned modestly nor in conformance with Temple standards.
What happened next was the first mic drop in history.
She took her sandal, and slammed it down upon the Altar, and expressed her innermost feelings. “Lukus, Lukus,” or wolf, wolf, she cried. “How long will you consume the Jewish People’s offerings, but you are not there for them in their time of distress!”
Miriam’s point was made powerfully and poignantly, but the rabbis of her times didn’t appreciate her sandal drop performance, and when the valiant Maccabees ultimately ousted the Greeks and their cohorts, the sages penalized all of Miriam’s priestly relatives, by taking away certain amenities in their Temple service.
So, one lesson that can be drawn from this is – publicly airing one’s grievances might have negative repercussions for family members, especially when they are broadcast online. But more than family members, Miriam herself was castigated for this offense, for her name and shame get clear and unprecedented mention, highly unusual for the Talmud, which generally prefers to protect the honor of any living thing, even that of a non-kosher beast.
What’s strange, however, is that this event took place during the Greek occupation that led to the victory and miracles of Chanuka, a time about which we are told, the Greeks “issued decrees against the Jews… and laid their hands on their daughters…” Surely there were other Miriam bas Bilgas out there, who had succumbed to the oppression and become turncoats. Why was this the only one singled out?
Furthermore, the irony of the tale is, in reference to the rabbinical chastisement she incurred, that instead of focusing on her apostasy, intermarrying, or corroboration with the enemy – her infidelity to her faith and to her people, any of which a most serious offense indeed – the sages chose to focus on something else. What was her unforgivable offense, for which her family would be penalized for generations to come? Her sandal banging and display of effrontery!
I mean, how can one possibly equate this with her other, really horrific and cardinal transgressions?
This simple explanation is, it would seem, that her “wolf wolf” outburst was public – like really public. Everything else, albeit a lot worse, was her own personal life. The public sensationalizing of one’s complaints to G-d is not necessarily the right way, nor the healthy way, to deal with those feelings.
In a shocking Sicha said on his mother’s tenth Yahrtzeit (Vov Tishrei of 5735, 1974), the Rebbe expounded upon the incident at length. Crying emotionally during the sermon, he found great virtue in the life of this woman, and maintained that she is not being blamed for cutting herself off from Judaism, because she is in fact not cut off from Judaism. She possesses a pure and Divine Jewish soul, connected to Hashem’s very essence, and is therefore being held to task for a rather minor infraction, in comparison with the much more severely negative “baggage” that she carries.
This tragic story is being used to substantiate a lesson of the innate beauty of the soul of every Jew, even that of a naughty one the likes of Miriam bas Bilga. If those around her are blamed because of their association with a “wicked” person, all the more so, would they benefit for being associated with a righteous individual. Each one of us, then, needs to be that righteous individual, to bring merit to all our neighbors and community members. And Miriam bas Bilga’s soul, one that Hashem truly loves, forever, had the great merit to teach us this awesome lesson.
To accentuate this, the Talmud tells us the epitome of her “offense,” that she slammed her sandal on the Altar and cried out, witnessing the suffering induced at the hands of the very modernistic and Hellenistic society that she in fact chose to espouse — “Lukus, lukus! How long will the Jews be allowed to suffer?!! The Rebbe’s uncontrollable sobs tore through the hearts of all who stood there, and surely pierced through the heavens. Seven seventy quiet enough to hear a pin drop, the Rebbe regained composure and continued to express his plan to rescue every Miriam bas Bilga of our generation. The Rebbe spoke about the empowerment of the Jewish woman, the necessity of every single woman and girl to light candles for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and the inherent beauty and essence of every single Jewish soul.
Surely, those special Neshomos who decided to go public about troubling events in their life, and especially the organizers of the speeches and their broadcast, truly benevolent individuals indeed, had no intention of harming anyone, and certainly not themselves nor their families. They are crying out in pain, like Miriam bas Bilga, and want to be heard. It is crucial that other means be found to help them, to help ourselves and our community members to get the proper guidance and treatment necessary in dealing with the various issues that have befallen us.
But those means do not need to involve public performances, sharing information way beyond the scope of controlled group therapy sessions, that will have negative effects on both family members, the mic-dropper herself, and moreover, on the listeners, who often are susceptible to be influenced negatively by the speaker’s affliction and rancor towards Torah values.
And yes, there are a lot of more serious issues out there. We are not focusing on chastising anyone negatively affected by the modernistic and Hellenistic influence of our time, because Hashem loves every Jew and Jewess, so much. The rabbis focused on this public, unabashed display of “Bilga’ism” – chipping away at the sensitivities of the Chabad community who are vulnerably absorbing the subtle messages that the negative venting imparts. People learn by example, and the promotion of values which contradict the guidelines of both Halacha, as well as the outlook that the Rebbe delineated for our generation, whether this promotion happens through mic-drop broadcasts, or through op-eds or even comments on popular news websites that claim to represent Lubavitch public opinion, are what has prompted the outcry of community leaders and rabbinic authorities.
The truth must be told, the Rebbe’s empowering the Jewish woman does not involve rejecting gender stereotypes, as modern society has erroneously attempted to do in its pursuit of its so-called emancipation of the woman. On the contrary, the beauty of a Rebbitzin, of a Chasidic matron, and of any and all Jewish women for that matter, is not to stand up and perform in front of a male observer, or to prove her validity by competing with and assuming a male role in Jewish life.
Quite the contrary. The role of a Jewish woman is so profound, and infinitely outshines the status of being a communal leader or entrepreneur. In many other Sichas and letters, the Rebbe bemoans the modern notion that a woman feels she needs to be a career woman in order to achieve equality with the male, instead of focusing on her role as the Akeres Habayis, a virtue that transcends and is far greater than the role of a breadwinner. Copying the male was also the premise of the movements which broke away from authentic Judaism in the past century – how is it that this tragic lack of understanding is now affecting Chabad circles?!
Speaking of dropping things, a highly unusual “stone drop” took place this past Tisha B’av, and very ancient stones indeed. And many felt that perhaps Hashem, too, wishes to be heard. Yes, at the Kosel Hamaaravi, on July 22, 2018, just hours after the end of the fast for the destruction of the Temple, some two millennia-old stones fell out of the Western Wall, an occurrence not witnessed in many years. And of all places, it fell at the section of the Wall used for egalitarian prayer services! Not the men’s section, not the women’s section, but the mixed section, the one that liberalists fought for, those who strive to equalize the genders. At the time, there erupted a difference of opinion on the lesson to be gleaned from this uncanny event, and not to mention near tragedy.
Some argued that it was a sign that the “prayers” happening there, at that particular section of the Wall, were distasteful on High. Others, those of more progressive persuasions, pointed out that miraculously, only one person was present there at the time, and it was in fact a woman dressed Tzniusdik, apparently an Orthodox woman, clearly not a member of the Reform or Conservative doctrine or clergy. The possible “retribution” (Chas V’shalom) and near miss, then, seemed to target an observant woman! (and Boruch Hashem she was not hurt)
For the most part, Lubavitchers neglected to offer any interpretation on Hashem’s public stone dropping, and “omen for retribution” is not an entry in the Lubavitch dictionary, so we’re not going to go there. But what perhaps can be said is that the fallout of erroneously trying to equalize genders has hit dangerously close to the Tniusdike observant woman of our time. It’s time to fortify our “wall” defining the integrity of Jewish womanhood, and celebrating a Chassidic woman’s true beauty and value, by reconnecting to the Rebbe’s teachings. Not to de-feminize her by putting her and her challenges on international and unprecedentedly bombastic display, nor to invalidate the great gift that the Almighty has given her, as the mainstay and essence of the Jewish home and family, as the mother and Chinuch provider of her and her husband’s utmost investment in life – i.e. their offspring – and as the “crown of her husband.”
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