The Woman's Voice | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | The Rebbe Writes
A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Malka Touger
In Jewish teachings, and particularly in the Kabala, certain qualities of character are described as masculine and others as feminine. These definitions are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, our character traits are interrelated.
Nevertheless, though every masculine trait has within it a feminine dimension, and every feminine trait has a masculine side, the basic concept remains that there exist feminine and masculine ways of thinking and feeling.
Which traits are defined as feminine? Our Sages tell us that women are more richly endowed with bina than men. Generally, bina is translated as "understanding."
More particularly, it refers to one's ability to interlock ideas and connect them, thereby developing a concept in all its particulars.
But more important than the fact that the faculty of bina allows us to see all the pieces of a puzzle, bina brings these pieces close to our attention and enables us to identify with them.
This feminine approach to thinking is becoming increasingly important in our lives today. The intelligence revolution exposes us to an ever-surging sea of information. Formidable waves of data come upon us cold and impersonal, and the constant and ever-more-urgent need to process it on a day-to-day basis, dwarfs our sense of self. We all feel the need to balance the technological advances that have become part of our lives, with growth on the human side.
And this is where a woman's added dimension of bina is most significant. It gives a woman a greater tendency toward empathy and what sociologists call "connected knowledge."
A woman arrives at knowledge by establishing a personal bond with the idea she wants to discover; she makes it part of herself, instead of treating it as merely an abstract construct.
All around us, we see people looking for this type of change.
Our Sages have told us that the time before the coming of Moshiach will be a time of paradox. On the one hand, we will be able to perceive a glimmer of the future light. On the other hand, this era will be weighted down by a darkness so palpable that it will prevent the light from being properly perceived.
Our Prophets allude to this state by referring to the struggles which will precede the Redemption as the birthpangs of Mashiach.
All women who have given birth will agree that the exhilaration of bringing new life into the world dwarfs the intensity of the pain, however great. The birth itself is the most powerful dimension of the entire experience, and the most lasting.
The changes taking place throughout our society on both the global and the individual planes point to a transition of awesome scope. As in the experience of giving birth, women focus on the ultimate goal of this transition, the coming of the Redemption, and are not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges this transition presents. Moreover, a woman's sense of forevision enables her to bring the awareness of the Redemption into her life today. For the essence of the Era of the Redemption is the fusion of the material and the spiritual - that we do not see the world as an independent physical entity, but appreciate its inner spiritual content.
And such an approach is natural for a woman.
When speaking of the Jewish people at the time of the Redemption, the Prophet Ezekiel says: "I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh." What the prophet is saying is that a sensitive heart, a heart that responds to what the mind knows, is the key to the change in our feelings that will take place in the Era of the Redemption.
We do not have to wait for the Redemption to begin developing such sensitivity. We can begin removing the hardness from our hearts already. Indeed, living with the Redemption - anticipating its effects by sensitizing our lives right now - serves as a catalyst that will make the Redemption a foreseeable and manifest reality.
From A Partner in the Dynamic of Creation by Sichos in English
The revelation at Sinai infused the Jewish people with the potential of refining the world through the Torah, preparing it to be a dwelling place for G-d. This event is described in our Torah portion of Yitro.
The following week's portion, Mishpatim, introduces the practical laws that govern daily life and that invest the world with spirituality. Mishpatim begins: "These are the laws that you will set before [the Children of Israel]. If you buy a Jewish bondman...."
The institution of human servitude discussed in the Torah mirrors the divine service of man, as he refines his materiality and elevates the world around him by observing the Torah and its commandments: "For the Children of Israel are servants unto Me."
In the following weekly portion, Teruma, G-d expresses His desire for a dwelling place on earth: "They will make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them," indicating that the Sanctuary the Jews were to build would create a "place" where G-d's Presence could be manifest.
As we read through these three portions, with their respective themes - a) Giving the Torah, b) enumerating its laws to live by, and c) the construction of the Sanctuary - a progression becomes evident.
First the requisite power is bestowed from Above; then one begins to tackle his daily tasks like a dutiful bondman; and ultimately one finds that he has built a Sanctuary, the desired dwelling place on earth for one's Master in heaven.
More specifically: The Giving of the Torah represents education in Torah; the servant state signifies diligence in our divine service; and the Sanctuary represents the successful completion of all the efforts expended to transform the whole world (and our individual segments within it) into a dwelling place for G-d.
In this vital mission of executing G-d's plan for the world, by transforming it into a Divine Home, Jewish women and girls have been assigned a primary share. The Torah itself calls upon women to assume their leading roles in these three basic aspects of Judaism enumerated above - Torah education, divine service, and the construction of a dwelling place for G-d:
Before Giving the Torah, G-d directed Moses to speak first to the women: "Thus you will say to the House of Jacob, and tell the Israelites." Rashi explains that "House of Jacob" refers to the women. The women, then, were the first to receive the tidings of the preciousness of the Torah, and the directives on how to prepare themselves and their children to receive it.
In the area of the servitude of Jewish bondmen, the category of divine service represented in the Torah by the Jewish maidservant (as explained in the Zohar) is the highest.
Describing the contributions brought to Moses for the construction of the Sanctuary, the Torah writes, "The men accompanied the women." Here, too, the women were followed by the men.
The relationship between these three points is obvious: the women were first to receive the Torah and to offer their precious objects for the Sanctuary, because they were also first in educating their children and in making each of their respective homes a Sanctuary.
From a talk of the Rebbe, Shabbat Mevarchim Adar I, 5746 (1986)
For These I Prayed
by Mina Richler
It's their first time and they are so proud.
One at a time, they have their special moment.
She welcomes the holiday spirit, she covers her eyes and swishes back and forth in her pretty pink dress. Pudgy little fingers cover her face.
She recites the blessing. So quiet but so loud and ever so proud.
She welcomes in Rosh Hashana - the New Year.
She knows that she can pray for whatever she wants.
And when she does, she welcomes the New Year and exclaims, "Good Yom Tov!" and gives her beaming Mommy a kiss.
And then her sister does the same. With so much pride. We all embrace.
My daughters have turned three. They have joined the legacy of Jewish girls and women all over the world lighting Shabbat and Yom Tov (holiday)candles, ushering in this New Year with blessings and light.
I love Shabbat candles. I love the cessation of time, the contrast of pre-Shabbat chaos to the silent peaceful solitude. I take joy in the Universal unity of doing what thousands of other women and girls are doing in their homes at this time - lighting Shabbat candles. We are all connected in prayer and Feminine Jewish Pride.
Lighting Shabbat candles took on more meaning for me through the ages. As a three-year-old, it meant being more like Mommy. As a young mature 12-year-old Bat Mitzva girl, it was one of the defining Jewish-womanhood factors. As a young bride, I looked forward to lighting an additional candle. And after I got married, I appreciated Shabbat candle lighting as a special "Et ratzon - A Time of Desire," a time to pray for whatever ones heart desires.
I prayed for many things throughout my life.
We all do.
Good health. Happiness. Success. Marital harmony. Sustenance.
We pray for ourselves. We pray for others.
We pray for our friends, for their families, for their health, and for G-d to ease their pain.
And then most importantly, we pray for children.
I remember this exact time four years ago:
It was almost Yom Kippur. It was my husband's 25th birthday. And it was one of the scariest days in my life.
It was a day I prayed hard. For everything I had and everything I'd ever want to have.
For my life.
And for children.
It was a day and a night when a board of specialists sat down for an emergency consultation in Lutheran Medical Hospital and gave me three choices, one worse than another: Surgery with risk of bleeding out; a Methotrexate injection\chemo drug; the worst case scenario, a hysterectomy - which was not an option for me. At all.
At the time, I was misdiagnosed as carrying a large fibroid, a non-cancerous tumor, in my uterus and scheduled for surgery in November. However, I had miscarried a baby with an extra set of chromosomes at the beginning of my 18th week 2 months prior, and my blood was still carrying HCG levels, pregnancy hormones. I was constantly in the emergency room hemorrhaging, and that was after losing 50% of my blood during the initial d & c. The complex vessels surrounding this "fibroid," which ultimately was a twin hydatidiform mole, a very rare complication, combined with the softening of the uterus due to HCG levels, made this surgery a very risky procedure. But that was our best option, and so we prayed.
Ultimately, G-d heard our prayers.
I came out of surgery. Every part of my body hurt. I was bruised from the IVs and my throat ached from the oxygen tubes. Pain took on a whole new definition.
Yes, the recovery was long. And painful. I was not able to fast that Yom Kippur and it hurt my heart to do what I had to do.
But I never made it to the November surgery to remove what they thought was a fibroid. Thank G-d, on Simchat Torah, the mass was expelled naturally, miraculously, and was sent for pathological testing.
There was no trophoblastic tissue and within a year, preferably two, I would be allowed to try to have children again. Four months from the time I was told, "I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat," all the complications of this rare partial twin pregnancy cleared up. I was healthy again.
I think one of the biggest miracles was that my doctor understood my emotional need over the physical risk and gave me the green light to start fertility treatment just a few months later.
My pregnancy was not smooth. I was on bed-rest in a state of threatened abortion until my twentieth week. I was far from friends and family and was often alone on the couch just trying not to be terrified. But sometimes, I was so scared to lose what I had, I would just cry.
But then I'd remember all that I had gone through.
And I knew that it was not for nothing.
I recalled the week before going into surgery.
It was the day before Rosh Hashana.
I had gone with my husband Avi to the Ohel (the Lubavitcher Rebbe's resting place) to specifically ask for "just a healthy child or two. It's so easy for G-d, just please bless us...we will be good parents, we will raise them to be a source of nachas (pride), I promise...."
If any of you have ever gone through a challenge, you know what it's like. You put on a brave face to the world. You smile. You dance at weddings and at the same time, try not to cry. You go on vacations, even though your doctor tells you not to, because you know you need it more than anything. You start new hobbies and try new things. but then, sometimes, the thing you need, the thing you are praying for, the thing your heart wants, it starts to hurt and you just can't stop crying.
You hope that happens when no one can see you.
For me it happened when I was at the Ohel, praying for children.
I remember my father walking in at five in the morning. I was still in the Chabad House at the Ohel, writing my letter to the Rebbe. And I just wanted to hide my red face and puffy eyes.
It was then that I looked up at the video screen playing in the room where I was writing my letter. I looked up and saw the Rebbe's face. He was addressing a crowd of Shluchot - Jewish women who had gone out to all corners of the world to do outreach and in the clearest of voices, he blessed them with the blessing of children.
I had my comfort and I had my promise.
It was when I was at the Shluchot Convention (annual conference of Chabad Women emissaries that takes place on 22 Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mussia Schneerson, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe), that I found out that I was pregnant. With twins. It was then that I made my promise to name my daughter after the Rebbe's wife, if it would be a girl.
It was exactly a year later from that eve of Rosh Hashana, that day that I asked from the deepest depths of my heart for a blessing for a child or two, that I went into labor.
And finally, on the second night of Rosh Hashana, my world became complete; my girls were born.
I kept my promise as well and named my first daughter, Shaina Mussia, for the Rebbetzin.
My girls grew. They have watched me light Shabbat candles. I prayed for them each week.
Three years came and went.
How many times I've stood by the candles and prayed for children, I cannot count.
I still pray for my children. And I pray for all my friends who need to be blessed with children. I do not forget your pain.
My girls light candles now. They are proud. I tell them they can ask G-d for whatever they want.
Maybe they pray for lollipops. Or new dolls. No more nightmares. More Mommy time. A baby sister. A trip to the museum. I will never really know.
But for a child, the most important things is to know that they have a relationship with G-d and know that they can ask for whatever they want.
So encourage your child to pray and light those candles.
You will bring light into G-d's world and G-d will illuminate yours too.
The miracle of children is not measured by how quickly or how not-so-quickly your first is born. Every child is a miracle. Yet, for some, this miracle takes some more time and effort.
I share my story not to overload anyone with medical details, but to share some sprinklings of hope. And to express my unlimited gratitude to G-d for bringing me to where I am today.
- (Back to text) Being that my mother-in-law's name is Chaya Sara and we have the tradition not to carry over the name of a living grandparent, we named our daughter Shaina Mussia.
Rabbi Avi and Mina Richler direct Chabad of Gloucester County, in New Jersey.
Continued from last week from a transcript of questions to and answers of the Rebbe in 1952, with thanks to www.NissanMindelPublications.com
Q: Is the standard of learning for girls the same as for boys?
A: No. The reason for this is not that girls lack the qualifications to elevate themselves to that standard of knowledge. It is that G-d awarded them a more important and higher responsibility. This greater task and obligation is the preparation of the future generation, the education of our young boys and girls in the true Jewish spirit. It is the mother in particular who the Torah obligated to fulfill this highly important task. To enable them to fulfill it to the fullest extent the Torah exempted them from the task of learning and fulfilling certain Mitzvos [commandments].
Q: If the actual fulfillment of the commandment is more important than the knowledge behind it, and therefore one should do and carry out the laws even if he lacks the explanation, we are living a life of blind faith.
A: When a child is hungry and wants to eat immediately, his mother does not explain to him all the processes the food goes through, or how the oven functions, rather she gives him the food immediately so to stop his hunger and then she can proceed in explaining the methods the food is prepared. Or when a doctor prescribes a medicine he doesn't explain the contents or the way it was prepared. The doctor gives the patient the medicine that is to cure him, although he lacks the knowledge of medicine. Just as one needs food for his physical life, so does one need food for his spiritual life. The spiritual food is the commandments and obligations prescribed in the Torah. One must take the food although he lacks the explanation of them, in order to survive (spiritually). After fulfilling them if he still desires to have the knowledge can he go about to attain it.
Q: Some people would feel that being a good Jew does not necessarily mean adhering to the precepts of Torah. They feel they could be good Jews without fulfilling the Mitzvos. How could this be explained to them?
A: When a doctor prescribes a medicine and the patient is reluctant and stubborn about taking it, the doctor, if he is honest, would not lead him astray and tell his patient to take something else in its place that would not have the same affect. Instead, he would try to explain the patient the necessity of taking the medicine and relinquish the patient until he has exhausted all means of convincing him. Or, if one is in a coma and it is difficult to revive him a good friend would not give up on his task of trying to awaken him. He would do his utmost to help this individual, even if it means to hurt him for his benefit. If necessary he would give him shock treatments if he knows the patient will revive.
Q: Why do we need ceremonies? Aren't they a burden upon a person?
A: We have already explained that the Almighty G-D is the perfect goodness. He would not create a thing that would be a burden for the people. It is only the people who consider it a burden. For, we are all limited to a certain degree, our mind and understanding is also limited which makes it impossible for us to grasp certain mitzvos to their fullest extent. Therefore, our intellect has not extended that far to grasp the truthfulness of the commandments and the necessity of performing the prescribed ceremonies. However, being Almighty G-d commanded us to do such, it is surely a privilege and not a burden.
Q: Are there any books in English explaining more (about) Chassidus and Chassidim?
A: At the present there aren't any which would give you the necessary knowledge. However, it would be a good idea if some of your group would volunteer to translate some of the Chassidic writings. I would be very grateful for that, and I would do my utmost in helping you succeed in that work. It is therefore my suggestion that those of you, including the girls, who are capable of doing this work, form the committee and we could start on this as soon as possible.
May I ask a question. How many of you present put on Teffilin daily? I don't mean to mention any specific names. The purpose of my question is to awaken those of you that have not as yet started to take upon yourself to start putting them on daily.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Thursday is the twenty-sixth yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of blessed memory, wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and daughter of the Previous Rebbe. Born in the Russian village of Babinovitch (a small shtetl near Lubavitch) in 1901, she played an integral role in both her father's and husband's affairs throughout her life. And yet, she deliberately chose to function out of the limelight. Extremely modest, royal in bearing and above all kindly, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka was the embodiment of Jewish womanhood and an exceptional role model for Jewish women and girls.
A few years after her passing, in a public address on the anniversary of her passing, the Rebbe spoke about the special mission all Jewish woman have been entrusted with. The function of every Jew - man, woman and child - is to "make a dwelling place for G-d" on earth. But the goal of the Jewish woman is to take this one step further, and adorn G-d's abode on the physical plane so that it is "lovely" and appointed with "fine furnishings."
In particular, the Jewish woman fulfills her role of "spiritual decorator" through the three special mitzvot G-d has given her to implement in her private home: maintaining the kashrut of her kitchen, keeping the laws of Family Purity, and lighting candles on Shabbat on Yom Tov, together with her daughters. (The Rebbe specified that young girls should light first, so that their mothers can assist them if necessary.)
The Rebbe also called on women to renew their commitment to the Jewish education of their children, from the earliest age on. When a Jewish mother sings a lullaby to her baby about how the Torah is "the best, the sweetest, and the most beautiful" thing in the world, it instills a deep love and appreciation for Torah that lasts a lifetime.
The main point during these last few moments of exile, the Rebbe stressed, is to recognize the great merit and power Jewish women and girls have to bring about the Final Redemption, may it happen at once.
And all the people answered together and said, "All that G-d has spoken we will do." (Exod. 19:8)
Instead of each individual answering, "I will do," the Jews all responded together, "We will do." Each individual Jew not only took upon himself to observe the Torah, but to be responsible for other Jews doing so.
I am the L-rd (Havaya) your G-d (Elokecha) Who took you out of the land of Egypt (Ex. 20:2)
Havaya, the un-utterable four-letter name of G-d, refers to an aspect of G-dliness that is above nature, implying past, present and future. Elokecha (Elokim), the numerical equivalent of which is the same as hateva (nature), alludes to G-dliness as it is enclothed in the natural order. "The L-rd your G-d" teaches that the essence of every Jew is also super-natural, endowed with the strength to overcome all obstacles and limitations imposed by nature.
(The Previous Rebbe, Sefer HaMaamarim Tav-Shin-Zayin)
You shall not covet (Ex. 20:17)
How can a person prevent himself from desiring something that is truly desirable? The following analogy is given: The poor peasant doesn't entertain the notion of marrying the king's daughter; not even in his heart of hearts does he dream of being her husband. The very idea is absurd, outside the realm of what is possible. Similarly, when we realize that another person's possessions have nothing to do with us, coveting them becomes impossible.
The Baal Shem Tov sat under warm, fur blankets in his carriage as it sped down the dirt road toward the town of Satnov. As the carriage neared the town the strange light emanating from there became brighter and brighter. It was not the light of a fire, nor any natural phenomenon, but a spiritual light discernable to the Baal Shem Tov alone.
When the Baal Shem Tov entered the suburbs of Satnov he was greeted by a great many people who crowded around to see the famous Rebbe. After a short while he addressed himself to the crowd: "Do you know that a great tzadeket lives among you - a tzadeket - truly righteous woman, whose light I was able to perceive even from afar."
"Of course, we know her. You are talking about the tzadeket, Rivka. She is known all around these parts for her piety and good deeds."
The Baal Shem Tov was very interested in hearing more about this unusual woman and even expressed his wish to meet her.
"Oh, you don't have to worry about that," replied one townsman with a smile. "She'll be here soon enough to see you. You see, Rivka will be here to ask you for a donation for the upkeep of needy families. She won't miss this opportunity."
He was right, for not an hour had passed before Rivka appeared before the Baal Shem Tov, asking for a donation. "Would the esteemed rabbi be good enough to contribute something for poor families?" she asked.
"Of course," replied the Baal Shem Tov as he handed her a small coin.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, but I can't accept such a small amount," she said, peering down at the copper coin. "You must have misunderstood me. You see, I am collecting for people who are poverty stricken and ill. They need expensive medicines and nourishing food. I need much more than that."
The Baal Shem Tov responded by giving her a few more small coins. She looked at him sternly and said in a strong voice, "No, this is still not enough. I can't accept anything less than 40 rubles."
The Baal Shem Tov was very impressed with Rivka, but he pretended to be angry. "What a chutzpa! Who are you to demand such a huge sum? Do you imagine that you are the treasurer of the whole town? Why, I wouldn't be surprised if you pocketed three-quarters of the money!"
Rivka was not intimidated and stood as before with her hand out in expectation of receiving the money. The Baal Shem Tov didn't disappoint her. With 40 rubles in her hand, the woman finally went on her way.
That night Rivka again appeared before the Baal Shem Tov with a request. But this time it was not money that she wanted. Instead, she asked for the tzadik's prayers. "Please, Rebbe, pray for the town doctor who is very ill."
"For that no-good sinner! Why the world would be a better place without the likes of him," replied the Baal Shem Tov, hoping to hear Rivka defend the doctor.
"Oh, no," countered Rivka. "First of all, no one has seen him in the act of sinning, and secondly, he is completely ignorant of the severity of his sins. I'm sure that if he understood what he was doing, he would stop immediately."
The Baal Shem Tov was satisfied with that answer, for he knew that the man's death had been demanded by the Celestial Court, and the good defense Rivka had just given was necessary to stay the decree. Not long after, the doctor recovered.
The townspeople told many stories about Rivka. Once, her two grown sons decided they should interrupt their Torah studies to come to visit their mother for a Shabbat. But Rivka's greatest pleasure was in the knowledge that her sons were devoting themselves to the study of Torah, and she didn't wish them to be interrupted from their holy pursuit.
On the day before Shabbat she called her beloved sons to her. "I'm going to ask you to do something for me, and I want you to promise to do as I say."
They looked at her in surprise and answered, "Mother, why do you imagine we wouldn't? We will certainly do whatever you wish."
"In that case, I want you to go back to your yeshiva now, before Shabbat. I know it may sound strange, but you will do me more honor by spending your precious time in Torah study."
"But, mother, we haven't seen you for so long, and we came especially to visit."
"My sons, try to understand: Seeing you gives me great nachas, but I'm willing to wait for my reward in the World of Truth. Go back and continue your learning, so as not to waste a single precious moment. I have already prepared a carriage for you, packed with the special foods you love for the holy Shabbat. Go safely and prepare for me the eternal nachas which awaits me in the World of Truth." With that, Rivka blessed her beloved sons and sent them on their way.
The Arizal, famed Kabalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572) writes in Likkutim, Shemot 3:4, "Most of the men in our generation are ruled by their wives - especially Torah scholars." This emphasizes the responsibility placed upon women - in order for the Torah scholars to be proper, the women must also be proper, since the conduct of the men depends on them. And, as discussed previously, it is in the merit of the women that the redemption will come.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Torat Menachem, 5712, pg. 308)