Chuldah Haneviah: Heartbeats of Hope| October 18, 2015
The tefillos of men are carried upward through the prayers and tears of the women
Our Shabbos table was full. I looked around at the group of seminary students who had joined us, and tried to recall each name. The girl in the corner was Sarah; next to her, Avigayil. Miriam had a sweet smile, and Devora and Esther had helped me in the kitchen with the last-minute preps. I blinked. In our group of lovely girls we had each of the seven nevios.
Almost. Chuldah was missing. No surprise there: What parent wants to name a child after a weasel?!
But Chuldah’s name was uniquely suited to her tafkid. It reflected the nature of her prophecy. Let’s discover the hidden nature of this little-known prophetess.
A Woman’s Mercy
Chuldah lived at the time preceding the destruction of the First Beis Hamikdash. Just as there were three distinct leaders at the time of the exodus from Mitzrayim — Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam — three prophets were granted to the people to try and ward off their exile from the land. Chazal tell us that Yirmiyahu prophesied to the masses, Tzefaniah prophesied in the batei knesset, and Chuldah prophesied to the women.
Chazal note that Shalum ben Tikvah used to provide water for those who made the trek up to Yerushalayim, and in the merit of this kindness, deserved prophecy. Yet, there was a need for a female prophetess, so his wife Chuldah received the prophecy in his stead. Obviously, Chuldah herself was on a very high level to be deserving of this gift. Chuldah is counted as one of the many descendants of Yehoshua Bin Nun and Rachav who merited to receive prophecy.
The righteous Yoshiyahu was the monarch during this historical period. During his reign, a momentous discovery was made: an ancient sefer Torah, written by Moshe Rabbeinu himself, was discovered. The sefer opened at the section describing how the king and the people would go off into exile. Yoshiyahu ripped his clothes in mourning, and he sent his officers to speak to a navi to understand the meaning of what they read. The officers sought out Chuldah Haneviah to ask her the import of the discovery.
It is fascinating to note that the officers chose to approach Chuldah Haneviah rather than Yirmiyahu Hanavi, who was clearly the greatest navi of that time. Some commentators suggest that Yirmiyahu was not in Eretz Yisrael at that particular time: He was on a mission to bring back the exiled ten tribes. The Gemara notes an opinion that Chuldah was approached because women are inherently more merciful than men.
This opinion is puzzling. A prophet’s obligation — man or woman — is to faithfully convey the prophecy, without making any changes. If the prophet is simply a conduit for Hashem’s words, then why would it make a difference if they went to a man or a woman — what possible advantage could there be to turning to Chuldah?
Connecting through the Curse
The Maharsha explains that women’s merciful nature means that after receiving a harsh prophecy, they will daven and plead that Hashem rescind the decree. Throughout the generations, women have demonstrated their ability to connect to Hashem through prayer. Indeed, we see this from the beginning of time, by examining the curses meted out in Gan Eden. The snake was condemned to eat from the dust of the ground. Dirt is everywhere, and by cursing the serpent that he will eat from the dust of the earth, Hashem has provided it with its all needs, thus severing any relationship. Hashem never wants to hear from the snake again. Man is given the curse of working the ground with sweat and tears, and needs to call out to Hashem regularly. However, man also has Shabbos and Yom Tov, when the punishment is suspended and he does not need to call out to beg for his sustenance.
One feature of the woman’s punishment is that it is constant: on a physical level, pregnancy, childbirth, and raising children is a relentless task. On an emotional level, too, bearing and raising children takes continuous effort. There’s never a day off! And so women must constantly turn to Hashem to help them through all of these stages! I recently heard a woman in her 80s lamenting about something that happened to her “baby” — a man in his 60s!
But Hashem’s plan was not simply punitive: it was to place women in a position of constant dialogue with Hashem. A woman is uniquely vulnerable; the rhythms of her very body push her to look upward.
And those tefillos are uniquely precious. The story is told that when Ponevezh yeshivah desperately needed more space — the bochurim were learning in caravans — a solution was floated. The plan was to take over the ezras nashim. This would give the extra space that was so desperately required.
No, came the emphatic answer. The tefillos of men are carried upward through the prayers and tears of the women. The ezras nashim was not to be touched.
Chuldah Haneviah personified this aspect of a woman’s spiritual connection. She was like the ezras nashim of Ponevezh; her prayers and tears were to carry up the prayers of a nation.
The Be’er Moshe quotes the Maggid of Mezeritch with another approach to this question. Indeed, a prophet cannot change the content of his prophecy. What he can change, however, is the way in which he gives over that prophecy. The tone, the place of pauses, the emphasis, are in the hands of the navi. A woman has the ability to convey the same harsh prophecy with gentleness, in a way that softens the outcome.
How something is said changes from person to person, and it can have a dramatic outcome on the content. With this we can understand one of the famous statements in Mishlei: Shema beni mussar avicha, v’al titosh toras imecha. A son is exhorted to listen to what his father says, which is often said with harshness and decisiveness. The woman, however, gives over her chinuch as Torah, as a way of life that is palatable for the child. The tone of the home is set by the mother — her softness, her gentle urgings, her songs that carry so many messages, spoken and unspoken, allow the child to flourish. On Pesach, the child who does not yet know how to open his mouth, the Haggadah teaches us, “at pesach lo,” the women is the one who opens him up to the world of Torah through her special touch.
When she is called upon to interpret the prophecy, Chuldah Haneviah begins by telling the officers to tell the “man” who sent them that there will be a great destruction. (In referring to King Yoshiyahu as the “man,” Chuldah showed a lack of respect, notes the Gemara, which is the reason for her derogatory name.) She then proceeds to describe that due to the humility and remorse of Yoshiyahu, he will not witness this destruction with his eyes and will be buried in peace. Yoshiyahu understands from this prophecy a deeper message that Chuldah is conveying, and undertakes a monumental task.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz in Worldmask cites Chazal who state that three personalities were named before they were born: Yitzchak Avinu, Shlomo Hamelech, and Yoshiayhu Hamelech. [Yishmael also falls in this category, but would necessitate a separate discussion.] A name reflects the essence of a person. The Derash Dovid notes that a person is affected both by the actual name given and by the reasoning behind this particular name. Parents can and should share the significance of their children’s names with them.
When a name is assigned before the person is born, it is an indication that he will live up to his name and purpose for being created. The place of complete perfection in This World is the Beis Hamikdash. It is therefore fitting that these three individuals were all connected to this place of perfection, as part of their mission in This World. In the Akeidah, Yitzchak Avinu literally became a korban; in doing so, he sanctified the place as the future site of the Beis Hamikdash. Shlomo Hamelech actually built the Beis Hamikdash. When Yoshiayhu Hamelech heard that “his eyes will not witness the destruction,” he understood the role he had to play: He buried the Aron in a secret hiding place that Shlomo Hamelech, years before, had prepared. In doing so, Yoshiyahu ensured that the heartbeat of the Beis Hamikdash was conserved. Until this day, the Aron’s holiness pulses like a heartbeat under the Har Habayis.
Returning to Chuldah Haneviah, we now understand the significance of her name. A weasel is known to ferret and dig in the earth. Chuldah’s name reflects the extraordinary role she played in preventing the Aron from falling into the hands of the enemy. Through her prophecy, the Aron was buried deep within the ground; the hidden hearbeat that will never be stilled. It is fitting that Chuldah was a descendant of Yeshoshua — he led Am Yisrael into Eretz Hakodesh, and Chuldah continued that mission, in ensuring that Am Yisrael will always retain a hidden, holy connection to the Land.
Chuldah, then, teaches us the power of a woman’s ability to connect: through prayer, through her gentleness, and above all, through her ability to discern the holiness that, though hidden, beats for all eternity.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 463)
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