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