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Publisher's Foreword

Overview

Liberating One's Femininity

A Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?

The Feminine Dimension

A Priestess in G-d's Sanctuary - Sinai and Servitude

Rights and Priorities - Discrimination?

Motherhood - Family Planning - Decision-Making

Three Mothers - The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Study & Observance - The Right to Know-Roles & Questions

Actions Speak Louder - Three Pivotal Mitzvos

A Lifetime Renewed - Descent for the Sake of Ascent

Glossary

A Partner In The Dynamic Of Creation
Womanhood in the Teachings of
the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson


Liberating One's Femininity

by Malka Touger

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  OverviewA Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?  

Social Involvement
Enhanced by Modesty
Liberating One's Femininity

Today, [1] man is being granted ever-increasing potentials.

Advances in technology and communications enable us to shape our environment and share ideas with people throughout the world far more effectively than ever before.

Similarly, in the realm of personal relations, many social barriers have been dropped.

Interpersonal differences that used to obstruct the flow of commerce and information are falling away and there is a greater willingness to accept a person without discrimination.

This also applies to differences in sex. Being now less restricted than in previous generations, women are accepting greater participatory roles in every area of social life.

In the face of these changes, a Jewish woman might ask herself: "Are these changes positive? Should the opportunities available be accepted, or should they be rejected as part of the challenges of contemporary society that conflict with our traditional values?"

The Torah's response to these questions involves a delicate balance between these stances.

In principle, a woman need not shy away from involvement in the world. Nevertheless, that involvement need not indiscriminately mimic the norms of society at large, but rather should be flavored by the unique approach of tzniyus which the Torah teaches.

Tzniyus (lit., "modesty") does not imply merely a code of rules for dress and conduct. Rather, it stands for an outlook, an approach to life that expresses a woman's femininity and distinctive inner nature.

In the words of the Psalms, [2] "All the glory of the king's daughter is inward (pnimah)."

In other words, women are endowed with a unique potential - to contribute a dimension of inwardness (pnimiyus) to their homes, to the people with whom they come in contact, and to their respective environments.

Creating A Dwelling For G-d

Further insights into this dimension can be derived from the narrative of creation, in which the Creator of both man and woman gave them directives to guide their conduct.

The Torah relates that after creating man and woman, G-d blessed them and charged them, [3] "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the land and conquer it."

Our Sages note that in the word v'kiv'shu'ha ("and conquer it"), the Torah omits the expected letter vav (before the final hei), which would normally indicate that a plural audience is being addressed; instead, the directive is spelled as if addressed to a singular, male listener.

It can thus be understood to be addressed to the man alone, for [4] "a man has a tendency to conquer, whereas a woman does not have a tendency to conquer."

Our Sages understand the "conquest" of this world as referring to man's endeavors to harness it and transform it into a dwelling place for G-d.

That is to say: We can transform the world into a place where G-d's essence is openly manifest, in the same way that any individual manifests his essential personality totally and freely in his own home.

When explained in this context, our Sages' restriction of the task of "conquering" the world to men is problematic.

On the contrary, surely the greatest manifestation of this form of divine service is reflected in a woman's efforts to make her home into [5] "a sanctuary in microcosm," transforming the material elements of her household into a dwelling place for Him.

There is no place where this sanctification of our mundane realities is expressed so richly as in a Jewish home.

One resolution of this difficulty revolves around the conception of man and woman as a single unit.

In the words of the Torah, [6] "G-d said, 'Let us make man...'; ...man and woman He created them."

Ever since that moment, only when man and woman unite are they a complete entity; alone, each is only [7] "half a person." Thus, there is no need for a separate command for a woman.

Her activity is part of her ongoing partnership with her husband. Moreover, their efforts in "conquering" the world depend on her, for until a desirable environment in his own home is established, a person's service in the world at large will be deficient.

To express this idea in allegory, only a foolish king would go out to conquer other countries before mastering his own. [8]

Communication vs. Conquest

The restriction to men of the command to "conquer" the world may also be understood at a deeper level.

A woman's sphere of influence, like a man's, also extends beyond the home. Nevertheless, she exerts this influence in a distinctive manner, different to that exerted by men.

A man often tries to conquer, i.e., to confront and overpower other individuals.

In contrast, a woman typically presents a concept tranquilly and peaceably, with modest understatement, thus more effectively allowing her listeners to join her in appreciating its worth.

To explain this concept using chassidic terminology:

The difference between malchus ("sovereignty") and memshalah ("dominion") lies in the manner in which they are secured.

Malchus refers to a situation in which a nation willingly accepts the authority of a king; to borrow a phrase from the liturgy, [9] "His children beheld His might... and willingly accepted His sovereignty."

In contrast, memshalah refers to power which is acquired by force, against the will of the populace.

Malchus possesses a twofold advantage.

Firstly, when a people willingly accept their king's authority, they are less likely to rebel. There is, however, a deeper aspect: in this manner, a people's connection to their king is not merely external, but part and parcel of their own being. It is their minds and wills which accept him. [10]

Men often choose to influence their environment by force.

Thus, although they may attain their goals, the manner in which they secure their conquest may cause friction with those around them.

In contrast, the inner dimension (pnimiyus) which characterizes a woman's approach [11] makes the ideas which she presents attractive to others and causes them to be accepted as part of their own perspective.

Indeed, many men would be well advised to learn this approach from women and incorporate it in their own life-work.

Inner Beauty: Tzniyus Today

The inwardness of a woman's approach depends on tzniyus.

The manner in which a woman presents herself teaches people to appreciate inward rather than outward beauty; it allows people to appreciate the inner dimensions of her personality.

In recent years, the trend in society at large appears to be turning toward this approach.

This positive direction should be enhanced even further, for the nature of the advances women have made in society has created both new difficulties and new solutions to them. [12]

As our Sages teach, [13] "By virtue of the righteous women of that generation, the Children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt."

Similarly, the qualities of tzniyus and inwardness which increasingly characterize the lifestyle of Jewish women in our generation will help transform the world into a dwelling place for G-d, and thus hasten the revelation of His presence, through the coming of Mashiach. [14]

May this take place in the immediate future. [15]

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) A recurring theme - the delicate tension between the increasingly participatory roles now open to women, and the due demands of feminine modesty - figured in talks of the Rebbe on the fourth and seventh nights of Sukkos and again on Shabbos Parshas Noach, 5751 [1990]. Excerpts from these talks are adapted in the above essay.

  2. (Back to text) Tehillim 45:14.

  3. (Back to text) Bereishis 1:28.

  4. (Back to text) Yevamos 65b.

  5. (Back to text) Yechezkel 11:16.

  6. (Back to text) Bereishis 1:26-27.

  7. (Back to text) Zohar III, 7b; 109b; 296a. Indeed the Midrash conceives of a primordial stage in the creation of man - a composite of two faces, back to back, later separated into man and woman. (See Bereishis Rabbah 8:1, cited in Rashi on Bereishis 1:27.)

  8. (Back to text) Cf. Sifri on Parshas Eikev, sec. 51, as cited in Tosafos on Avodah Zarah 21a, s.v. Kibush yachid.

  9. (Back to text) Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 109.

  10. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Devarim, p. 1b, which explains these concepts within the context of the acceptance of the yoke of G-d's Kingship.

  11. (Back to text) There is an intrinsic connection between women and sovereignty; indeed, in the terminology of the Kabbalah, woman serves as a metaphor for the Sefirah of Malchus.

  12. (Back to text) For example, since a woman's sphere of influence has been extended beyond her home and family, she often needs to travel in a taxi alone. Were she to travel with a male driver, questions might arise concerning the prohibition of yichud (being alone with a person of the opposite sex). At any rate, a certain measure of modesty is no doubt compromised in such a trip.

    Nevertheless, the very phenomenon which creates the difficulty - the wider and more varied roles women are taking in our society - often offers a solution.

    In this instance, it is possible to travel with a woman taxi driver.

    Even if it takes a little longer to find or order such a driver, it is preferable to make such a sacrifice, in order to develop the dimension of tzniyus and inwardness spoken of above.

  13. (Back to text) Sotah 11b.

  14. (Back to text) This is reflected in the statement of the AriZal (in Shaar HaGilgulim, Second Prelude) that the final generation before the coming of Mashiach will be a reincarnation of the generation which left Egypt.

  15. (Back to text) At the farbrengen of Yud-Beis Tammuz, 5724 [1964], the Rebbe cited the Tosafos (Sotah 14a, s.v. Mipnei mah) which speaks of the never-ending need to undo the damage done to our people by the episode of the daughters of Moav (Bamidbar 25:1-3).

    This episode, the ultimate in immodesty, arose out of a challenge to everything that Moshe Rabbeinu stood (and stands) for; its result was mass idolatry.

    At the above-mentioned farbrengen, the Rebbe explained how the ability to rectify this multiple damage is the unique prerogative of Jewish women - through values which are the reverse of the above, and especially through tzniyus, the kind of inwardness that enables a woman to infuse her home with appropriate content. For the founding of such miniature sanctuaries by Jewish women everywhere prepares the entire world for the construction of the ultimate Sanctuary, the Third Beis Ha Mikdash in Jerusalem, with the coming of Mashiach.


  OverviewA Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?  
     Sichos In English -> Books -> Women -> A Partner In The Dynamic Of Creation

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