Luck Be A (Biblical) Lady

Seven female prophets offer inspiring life lessons.
A painting of Queen Esther by Francois Leon Benouville.

People love the lucky number seven. It’s a significant digit in Judaism: the days in the week, the number of lights on the menorah in the Beit HaMikdash (Temple), the days of shiva (mourning), and more. Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, two important holidays in the Jewish calendar, occur in the Hebrew month of Tishrei, the seventh month of the year. Another group of seven includes the number of female prophets mentioned in the Bible: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther. This “coincidence” suggests that each of these prophets has a unique connection to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, teaching us valuable lessons for the Jewish year.

Sarah, the first matriarch, connects to the shofar, the ram’s horn that is blown on Rosh HaShanah. After the Binding of Isaac, Isaac returned home and told Sarah what had happened. Disturbed by the fact that her only child was almost killed by his own father, “she uttered six cries, corresponding to the six blasts of the shofar,” according to Leviticus Rabbah (a commentary). The six blasts refer to the six different notes we hear: tekiah, shevarim, teruah, shevarim-teruah and the final tekiah.

Every member of Abraham’s family was involved in the Binding of Isaac story. Isaac, obviously, was the one to be sacrificed; Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac; and Sarah mourned in response. This shows that everybody, young and old, male and female, are connected to God. Mothers and girls over bat mitzvah age shouldn’t stay home with the children and cook; they should be able to go to synagogue and pray. Fathers and boys over bar mitzvah age should share the responsibility and take care of issues in the home too. That way, everyone gets a chance to pray and connect to God. I was raised in an Orthodox home, but daily prayer was never a part of our family life; I came to it on my own. As a result, I’ve realized that prayer is so important, an integral part of being a Jew. If God doesn’t hear half of the Jewish nation’s cries, what state will the Jewish people be in?

Miriam was Moses and Aaron’s older sister. She has a deep connection to water. “Miriam” means bitter water. It was in her merit that the Jews had a well while they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Miriam also led the Jewish women through the Red Sea. She was not always as pure as water, though, since she sinned by speaking lashon hara (evil speech) about Zipporah, Moses’ wife. Just like water is clean and basic, we are all forgiven for our bitter sins and given a clean slate on Yom Kippur. We can learn from Miriam that no one is beyond teshuva (repentance). We can all achieve a sinless state any time of the year, since the gates of teshuva are always open.

Deborah, the judge, dispensed justice among the Jews of her generation, judging them while sitting under her date tree. If Deborah was able to judge others, we should all be able to judge ourselves. Part of the process of teshuva is making a heshbon hanefesh, or thinking back on all of the things we’ve done in the past year. We should always strive to tip the scales in our favor and do as many good deeds as possible.

Hannah was Samuel’s mother. Samuel was the one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, anointing Saul and David as kings and delivering countless prophesies. His greatness, however, was all due to his mother. Hannah was unable to have children, so she begged God for years, beseeching the Creator to bless her with a child. Her prayers were answered on Rosh HaShanah. (The same is true for Sarah with Isaac.) She composed the Song of Hannah in thanks. Her actions show us that nothing is beyond prayers; if we ask God with the right amount of sincerity, the Holy One, the God of Mercy, will answer all of our prayers.

Abigail was one of King David’s wives, known as an intelligent and beautiful woman. Her name means “her father’s joy” or “fountain of joy.” Unfortunately, the Jewish nation has often faced tragedy. We should learn from Abigail that no matter what situation we face, we should do our best to stay joyous. Rather than focusing on the negative occurrences that have happened, we should spend time thinking about joyous events, like upcoming weddings, births and other smachot (happy gatherings).

Huldah is one of the more obscure biblical women. She was a prophet during Jeremiah’s time and prophesied for King Josiah. She also ran a school for Jewish women. She was blessed with the gift of prophecy and could have been like Jeremiah, roaming the streets and portending doom; instead, she taught. It can be inferred from this that imparting prophecies is just as important as teaching about Judaism. As Jewish women, we have to learn from Huldah that a religious education isn’t some peripheral, unimportant goal. Without religious knowledge we can’t reach our full potential.

Esther is the famed protagonist of the Purim story who saved the Jews from extinction at the hands of Haman. The holiday of Purim is considered to be even more important than Yom Kippur, according to Jewish teachings. The Zohar, the main book of Kabbalah, points out similarities between Esther’s approach to King Ahasuerus and the Kohen Gadol’s job on Yom Kippur. (The Kohen Gadol was the high priest of the Temple.) Queen Esther dressed in her special royal garments, fasted and entered King Ahasuerus’ inner chambers at risk to her life in order to plead for the Jewish people. The Kohen Gadol dressed in special white garments, fasted and only on Yom Kippur entered the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple, in order to plead to God for the lives of the Jewish people. If Esther was on the same level as the Kohen Gadol, the only person who was ever allowed into the home of God’s presence, we must try and emulate her courage.

These seven women inspire me in my life and will continue to inspire me as the years go on. All I can hope is that I’ll be able to follow their examples in the upcoming year. While I have to study for the SATs and work hard on my schoolwork to get into a good college, my success or failure is ultimately in God’s hands. As long as I pray, do teshuva and expand my religious knowledge, I know I will thrive.

author's bio: 
Talia Weisberg is a junior at Manhattan High School for Girls.