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by Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann
There used to be a controversy whether a woman who stayed at home should be called a "homemaker" or a "housewife." The argument ran that she wasn't married to the house, a thing of wood or stone and that anyway a house was only a structure. But she did make a home, a place of nurture, sharing and growth. It was a way to elevate the status of a woman who "didn't work," meaning, of course who didn't work outside the home. Running a household, er, sorry, making a home, requires managerial, administrative and negotiating skills that put CEOs of major corporations to shame.
In a way, it was a silly controversy because calling a "housewife" a "homemaker," or vice versa, didn't increase the pay and probably didn't affect the respect she got. But still, there's something profound in the thought that it takes a "housewife" to be a "homemaker.'
Let's consider one of the most famous passages in the Torah: "Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." This command to build the Tabernacle, the prototype for the Temple, has a grammatical anomaly, noted by the rabbis. It should have said, "that I may dwell in it." It says "that I may dwell among them" to teach us that each and every Jew must build an inner sanctuary, a place in the heart, so to speak, where G-d can dwell.
This concept of making a dwelling has a close connection with how the world was created. In the beginning of Genesis, the Torah says in regard to the world "that G-d created it to make." It's the same verb as "to make Me a sanctuary." It means we are to make the world, to perfect it, to transform it into, yes, a dwelling place for G-d.
So the external, physical dwelling - the world or the Temple - resembles and reflects the internal, spiritual dwelling - the heart and mind of every Jew.
What does this have to do with Jewish women, and whether we think in terms of "homemaker" or "housewife"?
Well, the Hebrew term for the Temple is Beit HaMikdash - the house of sanctity. And a synagogue, today's miniature Beit HaMikdash, is called a Beit Kenesset - a house of assembly. (And the place where Torah is studied is called a Beit Midrash - a house of study.)
And the Jewish woman is called the Akeret haBayit - the foundation of the house. That is, just as the foundation supports the structure, the woman supports the house of Israel. Without a firm foundation, no building can endure. And without the woman conducting herself and her home - her household - in a Jewish manner, no Jewish home can survive. For it is principally the woman who insures that the house will be kosher, be Sabbath observant and follow the laws of family purity.
But the reflection of the internal home in the external house extends beyond a street address and the family. As mentioned above, the transformation of the entire world begins with the construction of the Jewish sanctuary - the (external) house and the (internal) home. Both have to be built. In this sense, activities "in the outside world" - whether helping another Jew perform a mitzva or interacting with the non-Jewish world in a way that it, too, becomes a dwelling place - correspond to building the house and making it a home.
So maybe it doesn't matter whether the term "homemaker" or "housewife" is used. But what does matter is that the Jewish woman fulfill her mission as the Akeret Habayit - the one taking the lead in transforming the world.
This issue of L'Chaim commemorates the 15th yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in whose memory L'Chaim was created. This article was inspired by a talk of the Rebbe on the Rebbetzin's yartzeit and is the 15th article Dovid Kaufmann has written for the front page of L'Chaim.
This week's Torah portion, Yitro, contains the narrative of the most definitive event in human history - the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. In order to understand what happened at Mount Sinai, we need to examine the concept of Torah itself.
As wisdom, the Torah is Divine, and therefore higher than any other body of knowledge on earth - "For it is Your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations." As a moral guide, the Torah is the epitome of all virtue, superior to any code of ethics that can ever be devised by man. All man-made ideologies and schools of philosophy contain an admixture of good and evil, truth and falsehood; in fact, any element of truth found in a particular ideology is merely a derivative of the eternal truth of Torah.
Yet the greatness of Torah far supersedes our human and therefore limited perception. The Torah is intimately connected to all of existence, as G-d created the world according to the "blueprints" contained in the Torah. Its minutest details directly affect all of creation, determining the amount and type of G-dly influence present in the world.
Observing this fundamental relationship between Torah and reality, King David declared in Psalms, "Your statutes were music to me in my dwelling place." And yet, as explained in the Talmud, G-d was not pleased by these words of praise. King David was reprimanded for comparing the Divine wisdom of the Torah to something as mundane as song. The Torah is even greater than the mere fact that physical reality is dependent on it.
What then, is the essence of Torah? Chasidic teachings explain that Torah is simply the wisdom and will of G-d, united with Him in absolute unity. G-d and the Torah are one entity. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, has granted us the opportunity to grasp the Divine by allowing us to partake of His eternal wisdom.
All other attributes and characteristics of Torah - its unlimited enlightenment, its ethical superiority, its direct influence on existence - are only secondary to this fact, the logical outgrowth of its essential nature. As Torah is a part of an infinite, omnipotent G-d, it is only natural that its perfection extends to all these other areas as well.
This eternal quality is most obviously manifested in the inner, esoteric part of the Torah, the teachings of Chasidism. Chasidism is not limited to one particular realm, but rather animates and illuminates all of Torah, which is why it is known as "the light of the Torah." The study of Chasidismt therefore serves to prepare the world for the revelation of Moshiach and the Era of Redemption, when "the knowledge of G-d will cover the world like the waters of the ocean cover the sea bed."
From Kuntres Inyana Shel Torat HaChasidut of the Rebbe.
Gift of a Lifetime
By Yehudis Wolvovsky
From a speech to guests at a gathering in honor of the birth of Yehudis and Yosef Wolvovsky's first child, Chaya Mushka. The Wolvovskys are emissaries of the Rebbe in Glastonbury, Connecticut
If you were to give your child a gift, a gift of a lifetime, what would you choose?
We chose to give our daughter the gift of kindness, the gift of courage, and the gift of humility.
We chose to give our daughter the gift of her name, and with it, we hope and pray, the gift of character.
Recently my husband was told, "Rabbi, as far as I know you are the closest thing to G-d." We all laughed, but there is some truth to that statement. We are told that after a baby is born, the parents are given divine insight when choosing a name.
We named our daughter Chaya Muskha, after Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson; she was the Lubavitcher Rebbe's wife and the Previous Rebbe's daughter. She was a paradigm of kindness, courage and humility.
From a young age, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was recognized for her courage. As the daughter of the Previous Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka witnessed the intensification of the Soviet war against Judaism. Life became very dangerous for Jews. Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was asked to secretly transport food and supplies to the underground yeshiva students.
During those difficult years, she played a significant role in her father's work. So much so that a certificate was written empowering her to receive money and government documents on her father's behalf.
In 1927, when the communist police arrived to arrest her father for his involvement in Jewish communal work, she kept her composure and furtively alerted her fianc้, the future Rebbe, of the situation.
It was Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka who bravely accompanied her father to exile in the city of Kostroma; and it was she who notified her family of her father's miraculous release.
In May of 1940, the Rebbetzin, together with her husband, fled Nazi occupied Paris. In the course of their flight there was a heavy bombardment by the German forces. As people were running for cover, Chaya Mushka noticed a shell heading toward a man next to her. She quickly pushed him to the ground, saving his life. The Rebbetzin later commented, "True, I saved his life, but for pushing a Jew, one just do teshuva (repent)." It was with this humility that Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka distinguished herself.
Throughout her life, the Rebbetzin's kindness helped many friends and strangers alike. While on a trip she was once forced to take a detour, due to construction. Riding down a side road, she noticed a sobbing woman standing outsider her home. A moving truck was being loaded with furniture, with several police officers observing. After passing the scene, the Rebbtzin asked her driver to return to the house.
Upon inquiring, she was told that the woman was being evicted from her home, as she had not paid several months rent. The driver was instructed to ask the officer if he would accept a personal check. She then wrote a check for several thousands dollars, and waited until all the furniture had been returned to the house before leavening.
Endless stories are told of the Rebbetzin's virtues. Her outstanding character has been demonstrated in so many ways, whether it was in the danger of communist Russia, or in the activity of New York. As the daughter of the Previous Rebbe, as the wife of the Rebbe, and as the mother figure to all of the Chasidim, the Rebbetzin's kindness, courage, and humility stand as an eternal example.
We all want the best for our children. We would do anything for them to succeed and grow.
As our baby Chaya Mushka's parents there are many gifts we can give her. There are many things she will treasure. But the gift of this special name, the treasure of this exceptional legacy, is something we hope she will cherish forever.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
True Existence is a Chasidic discourse delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn, the fourth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe. Translated into a lucid English and recently released by Kehot Publication Society, True Existence delves into the omnipresence of G-d and the true nature of existence. This is a bi-lingual Hebrew/English publication with the Hebrew text fully vowelized. The English is annotated with source references and commentary.
Talks and Tales
The monthly magazine for children, Talks and Tales, first began appearing in 1942. Its contents usually included Jewish festival information, historical events, lessons from the Torah portion, a story, In Nature's Wonderland, the Curiosity Corner, and more. Translated into Yiddish, Hebrew, Spanish and French, Talks and Tales: The Complete Collection is now available in a 16 volume set and offers thousands of hours of educational and enjoyable reading for children of all ages.
A Woman's Imprint
In commemoration of the yahrtzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (on the 22nd of Shevat) we present translated excerpts of two letters the Rebbe wrote to the annual Lubavitch Women's Convention.
In the days of Sefira, 5728 
...The Torah tells us that when the Jewish people finally reached Mount Sinai, they attained a state of complete unity, as indicated in the words, "and Israel encamped there" (in the singular person), all of them as one, united and unified by the singular thought of receiving the Torah and mitzvot.
The significance of that moment is pointed out by our Sages of blessed memory, declaring that the unification of the Jewish people was the condition for receiving the Torah.
It has often been emphasized that there are crucial moments in the life of our people, especially in the area of Torah and Judaism, where the Jewish woman plays a most important role. One of these areas is the unity of the family. Here the woman holds the main keys of harmony between the parents and the children, the parents vis-a-vis each other, and the children in relation to one another. In this area the wife and mother clearly has a decisive role, and in most cases, even a more decisive role than the husband and father. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish woman bears the title of akeret habayit (foundation of the home).
It is likewise clear that Jewish unity in a broader sense - unity between one family and another, and unity on a national level - is dependent upon harmony within the family unit. Where harmony is lacking within the family, G-d forbid, surely no harmony can prevail between such a family and another.
However, even where there is complete harmony within family groups, there still remains the problem of achieving unity on the national level. Let us therefore remember that the basis for true Jewish unity is the Torah and mitzvot.
If throughout the ages it has been no easy task to achieve unity, the problem has become much more complicated in this age of "freedom" in the "free" countries of the world, where people are no longer restricted in their choice of domicile, occupation, educational facilities, free expression of opinions, ideas, etc.
All these diversities and dispersions - geographic, social, cultural, etc. - are "by-products" of the contemporary "free" society in which we live. The newly-created conditions have created new problems and difficulties, which, however, must be viewed as challenges. With the proper approach and a determined will, they can be resolved...
Lag B'Omer, 5727 
Attention has been called on several previous occasions to the special significance of this year, a year of Hakhel - the special mitzva (commandment) in the post-Shemita year to gather all Jews, men, women and children, for the purpose of fostering fear of Heaven and the observance of mitzvot in daily life.
The mitzva of Hakhel was connected with a certain time and place (the Holy Temple), yet, by virtue of the eternity of the Torah, this mitzva, too, is, in its spiritual concept and content, valid at all times and in all places, and today perhaps more than ever before.
The spiritual concept and content of the mitzva of Hakhel is: to reinforce the eternal bond between the eternal Torah and the eternal core within every Jew and all Jews, to wit, the Divine soul, an "actual part of G-d above," which animates all Jews, men, women and children.
...The role of the Jewish woman and Jewish daughter in strengthening the attachment between Jews and Torah is particularly underscored in the mitzva of Hakhel, by the fact that not merely were women required to participate in this mitzva, but they were also required to bring the very small children as well. Indeed, the raising, care and education of Jewish children, from birth until school age, falls largely upon the woman. She, the Jewish mother, leaves her imprint upon the child and molds his early inner development...
22 Shevat 5763/January 25, 2003
Positive mitzva 59: blowing the trumpets in the Sanctuary
By this injunction we are commanded to sound trumpets in the Sanctuary when offering any of the Festival sacrifices. It is contained in the words (Num. 10:10): "Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets." We are also commanded to blow trumpets in times of trouble, as it states (Num. 10:9): "When you go to war in your land [against the adversary that oppresses you, then shall you sound an alarm with the trumpets]."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbas is the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe. Extremely modest, queenly in bearing, sensitive, compassionate and intelligent, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was the embodiment of Jewish womanhood.
After the Rebbetzin's passing in 1988, the Rebbe began to speak about "a new era" having commenced. Although the Rebbe had always stressed our generation's unique role in preparing the world for Moshiach, at that point the Rebbe declared that the only thing left in our Divine service is to actually greet Moshiach himself.
As the Rebbe further explained, this "new period" we are now in is especially significant for Jewish women and girls, whose task is not only to establish a "dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms" (as is every Jewish person's), but to ensure that it is a "beautiful" dwelling. When a "beautiful dwelling" is established, G-d "puts Himself" into the dwelling in an entirely different manner, not just "dwelling there" but uniting with it, as it were. G-d's dwelling place in the lower worlds becomes not only nullified to the "Owner," but one with Him.
This is reflected in the special mitzvot of Jewish women and girls, with their emphasis on light (Shabbat and Yom Tov candles), purity and holiness (kashrut and the laws of family purity), and warmth (providing children with a Torah-true Jewish education, the main objective of which is to instill enthusiasm for Judaism). In other words, Jewish women and girls are the ultimate "interior decorators" in establishing a "beautiful dwelling."
In these last few moments of exile, it is therefore crucial that all Jewish women and girls be aware of their tremendous role in hastening the Final Redemption, which will come "as reward for the righteous women of the generation."
And Yitro heard (Ex. 18:1)
Yitro (Jethro) was not the only one to hear of the miracles G-d had wrought for Israel, as it says, "The nations heard it and trembled." However, Yitro was the only one who acted upon what he heard and became a Jew.
(The Kotzker Rebbe)
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8)
Explains Rashi, the great Torah commentator: Take heed to remember the Sabbath at all times, so that if you happen to find something special, set it aside for Shabbat. Likewise, our Sages state that we are not to give special names to the weekdays, but to refer to them in the context of Shabbat ("first day to Shabbat, second day to Shabbat," etc.). Thus we are constantly conscious of the upcoming Shabbat and prepare for it every day. The same applies to the Messianic Era, the "day that is entirely Shabbat and rest for life everlasting." Throughout the present "weekday" of exile we must constantly remember and remain conscious of the "Shabbat day" that is coming, preparing ourselves and everything around us for the arrival of Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Sivan, 5744)
For by the very thing in which they sinned was punishment brought upon them (Ex. 18:11)
A person's punishment is determined by his own judgment of others: When a Jew sees someone transgressing and immediately "sentences" that person in his heart, he is thereby fixing his own sentence, as the sin most certainly exists in him as well.
(Baal Shem Tov)
You shall say to the House of Jacob and tell the Children of Israel (Ex. 19:3)
Our Sages say that the "House of Jacob" refers to the women, and the "Children of Israel" to the men. When G-d gave the Torah, He told Moses to first approach the women and only after the men. Since the exodus from Egypt occurred by virtue of the righteous women of that generation, when G-d gave the Torah, the women were given preference. The final Redemption, too, will be by virtue of the righteous women, as the Midrash states: "All generations are redeemed by virtue of the righteous women of their generation." Thus the women will be first to receive the wondrous teachings of Moshiach.
(Sichot Kodesh, Yitro, 5749)
Throughout the ages, we find great women who have been respected Torah scholars.
The renowned Sefardic Torah giant, Rabbi Chayim Yosef David Azulai (known as the "Chida," 1724-1806) in his bibliographic work Shem Gedolim, has a special listing for "Rabbanit" ("Rebbetzin").
He quotes the Talmud (Megilla 14a) that the Jewish people had seven prophetesses: Sara, Miriam, Devora, Chana, Avigayil, Chulda and Esther. In a commentary in Genesis, Rashi says that all the Matriarchs were prophetesses.
The Chida mentions the renowned Bruria, daughter of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon and wife of Rabbi Meir (both Tanaim - Sages mentioned in the Mishna). The Talmud says she would review 300 teachings of 300 Torah masters in a single day. She knew so much that she could express her own opinion in questions of Jewish legal matters, disagreeing with respected Tanaim, while others endorsed her opinion. So authoritative was Bruria considered, that eminent Tanaim would reverently quote how she rebuked them for not adhering properly to the teachings of the Sages.
On occasion she would even rebuke students for poor learning habits, giving as her source her interpretation of a scriptural verse, an interpretation that the Talmud later quoted.
The foremost commentator Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (c. 1040-1105) had three daughters and no sons. His daughters were known to be outstandingly knowledgeable in Torah. Once, Rashi lay sick, with no strength to write a profound and complicated reply to a query he had received. He therefore asked his daughter Rachel to write it. This may mean that he dictated it to her; even so, it reveals Rashi's confidence in her ability to accurately transcribe the complicated subject matter, for which she must have been a considerable scholar.
Maharshal, Rabbi Shlomo Luria (c. 1510-1573), one of the greatest Torah authorities in a generation of great luminaries, writes of an ancestress of his, some seven generations back:
"The Rabbanit Miriam, daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro and sister of Rabbi Peretz of Kostenitz, of a continuous line of Torah scholars tracing its ancestry to Rashi...who had her own yeshiva, where she would sit with a curtain intervening, while she lectured in Jewish law before young men who were outstanding Torah scholars."
Nor was this phenomenon confined to the Ashkenazi lands where the prevailing non-Jewish mores were more tolerant of women in positions of prominence. Rabbi Pesachya of Regensburg, Germany (c. 1120-1190), one of the Baalei Tosafot contemporary with Maimonides, traveled extensively, and an account of his travels still exists. He wrote about Rabbi Shmuel Halevi ben Ali, dean of the yeshiva of Baghdad in those days, had an only daughter known to be expert in both the Bible and Talmud. Despite the emphasis on modesty, she would teach young men Tanach. She would sit indoors near a window through which she could be heard, while her male students would listen outside on a lower level where they could not see her.
Another woman of this period who is recorded as being a Torah scholar was Dulce, the saintly wife of Rabbi Elazar of Worms (1160-1238), renowned author of Sefer Rokeach and other works and one of the greatest "Chasidei Ashkenaz" (the pious German Kabalists of the 12th-13th centuries).
Together with her two daughters, she died a martyr's death in 1197 at the hands of Crusaders who murdered them in her husband's presence. He mourned her in a touching elegy in which he describes her as extremely pious and wise, hospitable to the Torah scholars, expert in the rules of Torah prohibitions, and as one who would preach every Shabbat - to women, we assume.
Historians mention other women of this period who were very knowledgeable in Torah. Usually they are known only by the Torah books they wrote in Yiddish for other women to study, or for their translations of classic Torah works into Yiddish.
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe writes, "Several women in the generations of the Tanaim and Amoraim, and also in generations closer to us, were knowledgeable in Torah." The Previous Rebbe might have had in mind his ancestress Perel, the scholarly wife of the renowned Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Liva ben Betzalel (1512- 1609).
The Maharal was ten years old when he was engaged to Perel, who was then six (as was common at the time). Realizing his great genius, she decided to study Torah assiduously so that she would never be an embarrassment to her great husband. She said that from age eight, no day passed when she did not spend at least five hours studying Torah. Perel arranged and redacted all 24 of her husband's renowned works. It is said that in at least eight places she found errors in his works where he had misquoted Talmudic Sages, Rashi or Tosafot.
Adapted from an article in The Yiddishe Heim
Each generation is redeemed only in the merit of the righteous women of that generation
(Yalkut Shimoni Ruth)