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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


The Feminine Dimension

by Malka Touger

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  A Woman Called Esther - What's in a Name?A Priestess in G-d's Sanctuary - Sinai and Servitude  

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Our [1] Sages teach that Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, should not be taken at face value. [2] Rather, it should be understood as an allegory describing the ongoing relationship between G-d and His bride, the Jewish people.

The different phases of closeness and separation described in that sacred text serve as analogies for the states of exile our people have suffered and the redemptions that they have experienced - and will yet experience.

The very concept of redemption is intrinsically related to women.

Expressed in terms of the Divine emanations known as Sefiros, the Kabbalah explains [3] that the Sefirah of Malchus (lit., "sovereignty") reflects the feminine dimension.

During the periods of exile, Malchus is in a state of descent and does not receive a direct downflow of spiritual energy from the higher Sefiros with which it is normally linked.

Metaphorically, this condition is described as a woman in an enforced state of separation from her husband.

Conversely, in the Era of the Redemption, [4] "A woman of valor [will be] the crown of her husband"; the higher source of Malchus will be revealed.

The direct bond between Malchus and the other Sefiros will be re-established, [5] and Malchus will become a source of vital influence, renewing the totality of existence.

These concepts have been reflected throughout Jewish history.

Our Sages teach that [6] "In the merit of righteous women, the Jews were redeemed from Egypt." The same applies to later redemptions. [7]

And as to the future, we have been promised, [8] "As in the days of your Exodus from Egypt, I will show [the people] wonders."

The AriZal [9] writes that the generation of the ultimate Redemption will be a reincarnation of the generation of the Exodus from Egypt.

Since the future Redemption will therefore follow the pattern of that archetypal redemption, it will also come as a result of the merit of the righteous women of that generation. [10]

A Home for a Family: A Sanctuary for G-D

The role of the Jewish people, G-d's bride, and in particular of Jewish women, in preparing the world for the Redemption, is analogous to the role of a woman in her own home.

Our Sages [11] teach that G-d created the world so that He would have a dwelling place among mortals. This ideal will be fully realized in the Era of the Redemption. [12]

To develop this analogy:

A person desires not merely to possess a dwelling, but that it be attractive and tastefully furnished.

Typically, this task of shaping the home environment is the province of the woman of the house. Similarly, in the mission of making this world a dwelling for G-d, it is the Jewish woman who makes His dwelling attractive and radiant.

This greater role played by women within the world should also be mirrored in the activity of every woman within her own home.

It is largely through the efforts of the woman of the house that every home is transformed into [13] "a sanctuary in microcosm ," a place where G-dliness is revealed in a way which parallels and leads to the revelation that will permeate the entire world in the Era of the Redemption.

These efforts are reflected, not only in the spiritual influence which a woman instills within the home, but also in the manner in which she designs its interior - for example, making sure that every member of the household possesses a Siddur, a Chumash, a Tanya, and a tzedakah pushke (charity box) which is proudly displayed. [14] Even the rooms of infants should be decorated with Jewish symbols, such as a Shir HaMaalos. [15]

Taken together, these practical endeavors mirror the way in which Judaism permeates even the material environment in which we live.

Lighting Up The Home:

Illuminating The Sanctuary

Shabbos is referred to as [16] "a microcosm of the World to Come," and conversely, the Era of the Redemption is referred to as [17] "the Day which is entirely Shabbos, and repose for life everlasting."

On the worldly level, it is the woman of the house who introduces the atmosphere of Shabbos by lighting its Shabbos candles. [18] In this spirit, to recall the analogy of the world as G-d's dwelling, it is the task of women to usher the light of Redemption into the world.

In fact this very mitzvah, the kindling of Shabbos candles, is a powerful medium to accomplish this goal. For the visible light which the candles generate reflects how every mitzvah - and, in a wider sense, every positive activity a Jew initiates, such as a friendly word or a kindly deed - increases the G-dly light within the world. [19]

Women as Catalysts of Liberation

The efforts of Jewish women to serve as catalysts for the Redemption have historical precedents.

In the Egyptian exile, it was Miriam who relayed the prophecy that a redeemer would emerge. [20]

Even when the leaders of that generation could not foresee an end to servitude and oppression, she spread hope and trust among her people. [21]

When her mother was forced to place Moshe, the future redeemer of the Jews, in the Nile, her father Amram approached Miriam and asked her, "What will be the result of your prophecy? How will it be fulfilled?" Miriam remained at the banks of the Nile and [22] "stood at a distance to know what would happen to him."

Our Sages explain that, in addition to her apprehension for her brother's future, she was concerned about the fate of her prophecy. How indeed would the redemption come about?

In a metaphorical sense, this narrative is relevant to all Jewish women, those living at present and those whose souls are in the spiritual realms.

Concerned over the fate of the Jewish people, they anxiously await the Redemption: Ad Masai! How much longer must the Jewish people remain in exile? [23]

Celebrating in Advance

The anxious anticipation for the redemption felt by Miriam - and by all of the Jewish women in Egypt - was paralleled in its intensity by their exuberant celebration when, after the miracles of the Sea of Reeds, that redemption was consummated.

After the men joined Moshe Rabbeinu in song, the women broke out in song and dance, [24] giving thanks to G-d with a spirited rejoicing which surpassed that of the men.

In the very near future, our people will celebrate the coming of the ultimate Redemption, and [25] "The Holy One, blessed be He, will make a dance for the righteous." We can now experience a foretaste of this impending celebration.

Although we are still in exile, the confidence that the Redemption is an imminent reality should inspire us with happiness. For the Jewish people have completed all the divine service necessary to bring about the Redemption.

To borrow an analogy used by our Sages, [26] the table has already been set for the feast celebrating the Redemption, everything has already been served, and we are sitting together with Mashiach.

All that is necessary is that we open our eyes. [27]

The experience of such happiness demonstrates the strength of our trust in the promise of the Redemption, and the expression of this faith will, in turn, hasten its realization.

And then, [28] "crowned with eternal happiness," we will proceed together [29] "with our youth and our elders..., with our sons and with our daughters," singing [30] "a new song for our Redemption and the deliverance of our souls."

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) The above essay is adapted from talks of the Rebbe on Shabbos Parshas Bo (see also the essay below entitled, "A Lifetime Renewed") and on Parshas Beshalach, as well as on Parshas Yisro, 5752 [1992].

  2. (Back to text) The sources for this statement are cited in Rashi on Shir HaShirim 1:1. See also Rashi's characterization of Shir HaShirim (in Berachos 57a): "Its entire content is the awe of heaven, and the love for G-d in the heart of all of Israel."

  3. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim, p. 48b. When considering these Kabbalistic concepts, one should note the direction of the chain of causation. It is not that the functioning of these spiritual forces depends on the situation in the world. On the contrary: their functioning determines it.

  4. (Back to text) Mishlei 12:4. Yirmeyahu 31:21 (see commentaries there) likewise extols the preeminent position of women in the Era of the Redemption.

  5. (Back to text) In this context, the Era of the Redemption is referred to as the consummation of the marriage bond between G-d and the Jewish people (Taanis 26b).

  6. (Back to text) Sotah 11b.

  7. (Back to text) See Yalkut Shimoni, Part II, end of sec. 606.

  8. (Back to text) Michah 7:15.

  9. (Back to text) See Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 20.

  10. (Back to text) In this context, we can appreciate the significance of the efforts of the Rebbe Rayatz to encourage the education of Jewish women. See the essay below entitled, "The Right to Know."

  11. (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; Tanya, ch. 33.

  12. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 36.

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

  14. (Back to text) See Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992), p. 155.

  15. (Back to text) This usually takes the form of a decorative poster including Tehillim 121 and sometimes additional texts. (See footnote 16 to the essay below entitled "Three Mothers.")

  16. (Back to text) In the original, mei'ein Olam HaBa, a phrase which appears in the zemiros sung at the Shabbos table. Cf.: "The Shabbos is a sixtieth part of the World to Come" (Berachos 57a). This too, like the phrase quoted in our text, alludes to "the World to Come, which is entirely Shabbos" (in the original, HaOlam HaBa, shekulo Shabbos; in Osiyos deRabbi Akiva, sec. 4).

  17. (Back to text) In the original, Yom shekulo Shabbos. See the closing words of Tamid 7:4, incorporated in the Sabbath prayer inserted near the conclusion of the Grace after Meals (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 93), which asks that we be privileged to inherit that eternal Day.

  18. (Back to text) This recalls the mystical concepts mentioned above.

    Shabbos also relates to the feminine dimension of the Sefirah of Malchus, as reflected in the expression, "the Shabbos Queen" (in Aramaic, Shabbos Malkesa; see Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 132).

  19. (Back to text) Cf. Mishlei 6:23: "For a mitzvah is a lamp, and Torah is light." The analogy of a candle for mitzvos is strengthened by the fact that the Hebrew word for "candle" - ner is numerically equivalent to 250.

    There are 248 positive commandments; when one adds the two basic spiritual emotions of love and awe of G-d, which contribute warmth and vitality to the performance of the mitzvos, the sum of 250 is reached.

  20. (Back to text) Moreover, this took place while she was still a child, implying that similar activities can be undertaken by Jewish girls even before they reach full maturity.

  21. (Back to text) See Megillah 11a.

  22. (Back to text) Shmos 2:4.

  23. (Back to text) This plea of all the generations echoes the prayer of Mother Rachel: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children." The reassuring Divine response appears in the continuation of the prophecy: "Your endeavors will be rewarded... and there is hope for your future." And G-d promises further, "Your children shall return to their borders." (See Rashi on Bereishis 48:7 in reference to Yirmeyahu 31:14ff.)

  24. (Back to text) The Torah's description of this celebration (Shmos 15:20) also testifies to the deep faith inherent in Jewish women. The commentaries to this verse relate that as the women of the time prepared to leave Egypt, they were so confident that G-d would perform miracles on behalf of their people in the desert that they took drums [tambourines] with them so they could rejoice when the time came.

  25. (Back to text) Taanis 31a.

  26. (Back to text) Pesachim 119b.

  27. (Back to text) See the essay entitled, "Open Your Eyes and See," in Sound the Great Shofar, pp. 109-114.

  28. (Back to text) Yeshayahu 35:10.

  29. (Back to text) Shmos 10:9.

  30. (Back to text) The Pesach Haggadah; cf. Mechilta, Beshalach 15:1.


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