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Catalysts of Change

Catalysts of Change

The Power of the Jewish Woman

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I remember the first time I met a Chassidic woman. I was taken by the freedom and potency she radiated. Little did I know at the time that the Rebbes who inspired these women in their paths—of service and creative contribution, meaning and inwardness—are themselves proponents of the empowerment of women. In fact, they comment on the feminist revolution as being an outgrowth of a shift in a cosmic reality, that shift towards the redemption of all humanity when not only will we all live in peace, but the feminine principal will be the primary guiding force for all the holy living that we’ll be doing.

I can still feel the rush of when, in 1992, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson—gave a public address in which he commented on a 1934 teaching of his predecessor and father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn—that was addressed to women in Riga, Latvia, just after Purim. In both talks, the Rebbes articulated their perspective on Jewish women. They were innovative, and yet rooted in the age-old teachings of our Sages and in the Bible itself.

He emphasized the unique merit of Jewish women Viewing women as catalysts of change, the Previous Rebbe devoted himself to their education, reaching out to women in all matters of Judaism, the observance of good deeds and Torah study, and in particular, its mystical Chassidic dimension. He emphasized the unique merit of Jewish women, stressing that each one is the pillar of the nuclear unit of the home, and thus, of society at large.

In his address to women, he pointed out that in numerous places in the Torah, women are given precedence over men. For example, in preparation for the revelation at Sinai, G‑d told Moses1, “This is what you must say to the House of Jacob and tell to the Children of Israel.” Our Sages comment that “the House of Jacob” refers to the women and “the Children of Israel” to the men. Thus, G‑d instructed that the women be addressed first.

A second instance of their priority is communicated regarding the offerings the people brought for the creation of the sanctuary in the desert. On the verse “The men accompanied the women,” Ramban comments that “the women were there first, and the men joined them.” I’m not sure how the average woman on the street feels about giving her diamonds and pearls (should she even have them) to a holy cause. Or her favorite piece of jewelry. But our ancestors did not hesitate to offer their wealth and jewels. They were women of the highest caliber; in their enthusiasm, they paved the way for the men to make their offerings.

These instances of precedence in time reflect a primary superiority in quality. How so?

These reflect a primary superiority in quality The very opposite of the Giving of the Torah was the sin of the Golden Calf. Rather than turn to the only source of true life, our Creator, the people of Israel were seduced by gold. They saw in it a safety and a sense of being. Most of us are familiar with the story of the Golden Calf, but I doubt that most are aware that women did not participate in the idolatry. Clear of heart and vision, they had no desire to contribute their gold towards its creation. As such, they were on a completely different level from the men when it came to the giving of the Torah.

In fact, regarding the creation of the sanctuary, “Every skilled2 woman put her hands to spinning ... Highly skilled3 women volunteers also spun the goats’ wool.” This latter spinning was a craft of special skill because the women did so while the hairs were still on the animals’ backs4.

Ultimately, these specific instances of precedence (having been addressed first at the Giving of the Torah, not worshipping the Golden Calf, bringing their offerings first for the creation of the sanctuary, and utilizing their unique talents in the actual creation of the edifice) arise out of the connection women have with the Redemption. Their acts were different because their soul root is different. The women were able to rise above the seduction of the stars or the sand of the desert because of their “spiritual primacy.” And that lofty root is associated with the era of Moshiach, the redeemer of the Jewish people and all of humanity.

The spiritual nature of women has impacted all generations. Our Sages say that “by virtue of the reward due to the righteous women of that generation, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” The same applies to our future Liberation. In this case, too, it will be in the merit of the women. In fact, the Sages go so far as to say that “the generations are not redeemed other than in the merit of the righteous women of that particular generation.”

This is all the more pertinent when we bear in mind the teaching of the Arizal that the souls of the generation of the Messianic Redemption will be an incarnation of the very same souls that went out of Egypt. Thus, the women of our generation in whose merit we are about to be liberated are the same souls by whose virtue we left Egypt.

It is for this reason, the Rebbe articulates, that his father-in-law placed a special emphasis on the education of women. He understood that they are the catalysts of change. Through empowering them, one hastens the social, psychological and spiritual revolution of mankind the Torah calls Redemption.

Feminine principles and ways of being will come clearly to the fore Not only are women at the forefront in bringing about the Redemption, but they will be so, too, in the era of Redemption itself. At this future time, the unique superiority of the mystical source of womanhood—and its associated receptive and feminine principles—will be revealed. It’s already manifest in the way we do business and society’s focus on connection evident in the notion of a “Global Village.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe presents a fresh take on the feminist movement. He notes that we have already seen evidence of this cosmic shift in recent times with the radical changes in the place of women in society. Read that as “the feminist movement,” and all the changes it has brought. Certainly, as with all social change, there have been both positive and less beneficial results. Regardless, from a spiritual perspective, these changes are a result of the coming era when feminine principles and ways of being will come clearly to the fore.

The men and women of my community espouse a novel kind of feminism. It’s one that is devoid of ego. It’s not about who tops the list, the charts of popularity we’re all too familiar with. It’s about who is at the epicenter of change. Who’s able to do what to make our world a wonderful place for everyone. Moshiach is for all of us.

My Chassidic sisters are imbued and empowered by teachings like these that abound in the opus of works of not only the Chabad Rebbes, but of our Sages and primary texts as well. They’re beautiful inside and out; they dance the dance of life with verve. But more importantly, their physical beauty is a reflection of a spiritual one. The women I have the privilege to live among are deep, introspective, intelligent and desirous of growth. The envoys of the Rebbe are changing the world bottom-up, inspiring other women to get in touch with their true selves. They’re working 24/6 to make this world a dwelling place for G‑d so that each of us finds inner peace, truth and meaning.

Sefer HaSichot, Parshat Bo-Beshalach 5752/1992

Footnotes
1.

Vayakhel 35, 22

2.

Literally “Every wise-hearted woman”

3.

Literally “All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom"

4.

Seforno is of the opinion that this was done so as not to compromise the quality of the cloths, which happens when hair is cut from its source. The Chidah comments that this was in order to prevent any impurity associated with the hair being cut of from its life source. The Rebbe adds that this method also implied that consequently this offering was brought from the animal, rather than the vegetable domain.

Shimona Tzukernik is the creator of The Method, a therapeutic application of Kabbalah for individuals and corporations seeking spiritually based transformation. Known as “The Kabbalah Coach,” she has counseled hundreds of individuals, and now offers coaching certification in The Method. She is also an internationally recognized speaker and author for the Rohr JLI. Shimona has been featured in media around the world including a documentary by National Geographic and NickMom’s “Take Me to your Mother.”
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 29, 2012

the sacred feminine finding our way back I want to respond to Annika. First let me say that Annika is a very beautiful name for me, as long ago I lived in Sweden and spoke Swedish fluently. I was small, just a child, and my best friend was a girl with this name.

I feel you are right, in what you wrote above, and maybe G_d wrote us all into a story, a circling story, and it's coming back to women and the power of women, who are wise. I do believe that there is something very important about the Jewish woman, and all women, in terms of the receptive quality of our being. We are nurturers and we carry children, and we are largely responsible in traditional ways for the home.
This is not a "blanket" statement, because we know we're all in this together and men and women share qualities. But I think it's time women's voices were heard, because they are wise, and loving and have much of great depth to contribute.

I believe in all cultures, going back, women WERE important and people came to women for insight and for compassion. Reply

Annika Tacoma, WA February 28, 2012

Spiritual Primacy If women are thought of as catalysts of change and feminine empowerment is viewed as a positive thing, why are women still restricted from public roles, such as being a rabbi? True, a women can teach her children at home and be the spiritual pillar of her family, but if a woman actually has a spiritual primacy as stated in the article, why would men not want to profit directly from it? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma February 1, 2011

what is, Gold I see that G_d wrote us all into a profound story that will sweep the world, and that words are a deep container or key for this story, that does deeply involve all creation, and all creative acts.

The Periodic Table of the Elements lists gold as AU. If you listen hard, you will see, within our word Torah itself, the AU as in T AU RA
Now the aur combined with the ra gives AURA. I attended a talk given by Yuval Asherov some time ago. He is a rabbi from Safed, I believe, of the mystic Jewish tradition and he was saying there is evidence for AURAS in people doing mitzvot, and even reciting from Torah itself.
I found this compelling.

We have, in English, many words with this sound, such as, auricle, for the ear, and then of course oracle, "au"rally synonymous, and for a prophet.

I wrote last night about the Ark of the Covenant on another site, about that bar of gold that was to be hammered out, for the menorah, as ONE piece. Listen again. Men aur ah.

"Received knowledge".

with LO◊ Reply

Paulette San Diego, CA February 14, 2010

a new kind of feminism Shimona,
The last 2 paragraphs of your article articulated what I felt and experienced at the recent Kinos Schlichos conference in Crown Heights. Being with women who are committed to something greater than their own small petty desires was uplifting and inspiring. When one looks deeper into the community of Chabad women....when one looks beyond the fact that men and women have separate roles, etc......one sees something very beautiful, very strong, very powerful, and very in sync with feminism. I felt completely at home....and I have always been a strong feminist Reply

Celine Bennett Elliot Lake, Canada, Ontario June 1, 2009

Dignity This article is good news to me and makes so much sense! Thank you G-d for my Dignity! My husband and teenagers always relys on me for spiritual matters,...The household spiritual climate is on my work. A work of greta responsibility for G-d. I pray the women around the world be liberated from oppression. Reply

Arden April 2, 2009

Feminism is NOT hatred of men Jonathan, yours is an extremely worn out retort that has been used countless times by misogynists/anti-feminists. Please refrain from doing so again.
True feminism is also a men's movement, since men hurt themselves as well as women with their brittle, reactionary stance toward gender roles and women gaining respect and power in our male dominated societies. The world is terribly out of balance because of this male-centric kind of thinking, and wanting to change that does NOT mean we hate men. We really love a lot them actually. Reply

Jonathan Walker Reno, NV, USA February 20, 2009

Feminism is Hatred of Boys & Men The negatives of the feminist revolution far outweigh the positives. Reply

Chaya Jordan Monsey, NY February 17, 2009

women did so while the hairs were still on the ani It occurred to me while reading about how the women spun the tapestries of the mishkan "while the hairs were still on the animals' backs" that this has set a precedent for how women still function today. It is such a strange image to think of weaving while the animal is right there. One would have to keep the animals calm while accomplishing the task of weaving off their backs. This takes place in my home everyday while I try to get my children dressed and ready for cheder. My husband takes my boys to shul and for learning regularly, but I am the one that has to put their clothes and tzitzis and kippahs on and gather their books. All while they prace about as wild goats. And yet using harsh tactics to dress them will undermine the very purpose of what I am preparing them for. I think I will focus on the image of my foremothers designing holy woolen cloths to cover the mishkan the next time I have to keep my "cool" while preparing two little "kids" for their holy work. Thanks Reply

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