The crisis of rape and violence against women in South Africa casts a shadow of evil on our society. Good people must join forces to fight it. First and foremost, rape and assault must be dealt with as part of the wider fight against violent crime in South Africa. Rape will never be defeated until policemen and prosecutors fulfil their duties with excellence in arresting and convicting the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. But, Judaism also teaches that the way to defeat the darkness of evil is to increase and strengthen the forces of light and goodness in the world. We, the vast majority of South Africans, are decent, law-abiding good people. We all need to join hands and increase the light of moral values to uplift our entire society.
Where to begin? Gender based violence is rooted in an extreme disrespect for women. If this scourge of society is to be addressed, then we need to nurture a culture of respect and appreciation for the power of women. The young boys of South Africa need to be raised by their parents to value the awesome potential of women as leaders within society. Only when young boys grow up to be men who value women as great human beings will we be able to truly address the symptoms of the societal ill of gender based violence. Judaism has so much to teach us in this regard. The Talmud says, “In the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt, and in their merit we will be redeemed in the future.” The message is that righteous women can change and redeem the world.
This message emerges very powerfully from the Bible. The Book of Genesis speaks not only about the founding fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also the founding mothers – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Often it was the women who intervened to ensure the correct path was taken. Both Sarah and Rebecca acted against the better judgment of their husbands and G-d concurred with them. At the time of the redemption from Egypt, it was Moses and Aaron, together with their sister, Miriam, who led the Jewish people out of slavery and through the miraculous years in the desert.
South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid was also led by remarkable women, whose bravery and brilliance played a crucial role in freeing our country from the brutal oppression. But it was not only the women leaders who were liberators; it was the mothers, daughters and sisters who gave strength and direction to millions of families across South Africa to stand up to the evils of Apartheid with fortitude and faith. This is the true meaning of the statement that “in the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt”. According to the Talmud, the women of the time strengthened their marriages and their families so that the nation could survive the awful slavery with its soul still intact. During the dark days of Apartheid, masses of righteous South African women worked, gave birth to and raised children and ensured the running of their households.
As we build the new South Africa together, let us recapture the spirit of the struggle. Let us rekindle the power of the righteous women to change and redeem the world. Every Friday evening Jewish women light candles in their homes to usher in the holiness and refreshing serenity of the Sabbath. This simple act symbolises how women can bring the light of love, moral values, family bonds, faith and loyalty into their homes and the lives of their families. The gateway to redeeming South Africa today is through the power of women. Great strides have been made in South Africa in recent years towards gender equality. These efforts address the very important sphere of politics and business. But we cannot neglect to acknowledge, pay tribute to and strengthen the sacred and profound daily contribution made by the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of South Africa to nurturing great families and communities, and contributing to society.
South African men need to understand and appreciate the vital irreplaceable role of women in building a great country. And more than that, to become equal partners with them in building families and communities. Children need fathers and mothers in their lives, and great marriages and families are nurtured through active participation, with no one’s role limited only to the fields of labour and the boardrooms of commerce. Judaism teaches of the awesome power of family to overcome suffering and challenge, and to create the loving framework for the human spirit to flourish. In Egypt, it was the loving power of marriage and family that the righteous women of that generation nurtured and strengthened.
The righteous women of society bring redemption to the world by creating and sustaining loving and close families. Men can pay tribute by joining the women as equal partners in these holy endeavours. Together we can create an army of strong and inspired families to spread the light of kindness, morality, dignity and love in the world, so that the forces of darkness can be vanquished forever.