One day in the 1770s, when the classical Torah underpinnings of the fledgling chassidic movement were not yet widely known, the Alter Rebbe, with self-effacing dignity, ascended the tall pulpit in the cold synagogue of Shklov, a major bastion of Lithuanian erudition. As he stood there, facing the town’s scholastic elite, his humorless detractors sat up straight, ready to assail him zealously with hostile queries and legalistic objections.

How might one expect an intellectual giant of his caliber to react? Should he not proceed to analyze and answer their queries one by one, here resolving a logical paradox, there supplying a learned source for a problematic postulate?

The Alter Rebbe did none of these. Instead, he quietly sang a haunting chassidic melody, and in it they heard the intense yearning of a lofty soul. As its sweet and mellow warmth stole into their frigid hearts, he elevated his listeners to an unaccustomed spiritual vantage point. From this new perspective they were now able to perceive harmony in place of dissonance, to appreciate brotherliness in place of dissension, to see the varied facets of the Torah as complementary hues of a single rainbow, rather than an excuse for sterile cerebral fisticuffs.

In much the same way, when addressing the sensitive issues confronting Jewish women today, the Rebbe does not follow the common path of engaging in polemics and apologetics. Instead, by unveiling and illuminating the human and cosmic repercussions of each of the major mitzvos of women, the Rebbe elevates us to an intellectual and spiritual perspective from which we behold a refreshingly broad world-picture.

From this perspective, everything is different — womanhood, motherhood, Torah study and mitzvah observance. From this perspective, as she carefully checks the kashrus of the local supermarket’s food products, a woman now understands that she is affecting the spiritual and even the physical well-being of her family. As she lovingly observes the laws of family purity, she knows that she is not only affecting the spiritual and physical well-being of her family: she is building eternity. As she grooms the body and soul of her home on Friday, she grasps that she is a priestess in G‑d’s sanctuary, privileged to treat her family to the experience of Shabbos, a foretaste of the World to Come. And as she discreetly deploys all her feminine intuition and ingenuity toward keeping her marriage fresh and loving, she realizes that she is simultaneously reinvigorating the cosmic marriage bond between Israel and her Groom.

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The proportion of his time that the Rebbe consistently allocated to promoting the status and interests of women, is in itself instructive. A few examples: Every year, during the week before Rosh HaShanah, the Rebbe devoted a major address to an audience of thousands of women of all ages.1 At some time between Lag BaOmer and Shavuos, there was an address in honor of the annual convention of N’shei uBnos Chabad, the Lubavitch Women’s Organization which the Rebbe founded in the US in 5713 [1953]. From 5716 [1956] the convention was honored every year by an instructive and inspirational letter in Yiddish and English.2 Towards the end of the school year there was always an address for the graduating class of Beth Rivkah and for the counselors of the Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps for girls, who were traditionally joined by great numbers of other women and girls. In addition, there was always a letter addressed to the participants of the midwinter convention of N’shei Chabad, held in rotation in various cities throughout the United States, and to the participants of scores of parallel conventions and events held in Eretz Yisrael.

Significantly, it was the Rebbe who personally set the tone for the editorial policy of Di Yiddishe Heim, the English/Yiddish quarterly of the Lubavitch Women’s Organization. On a dozen occasions the Rebbe marked a significant date in the chassidic calendar (such as, in recent years, 22 Shvat, the yahrzeit of the Rebbitzin Chayah Mushka נ"ע) by handing a newly-published kuntreis [publication] to each of the women and men present. And countless women throughout the world, like countless men throughout the world, treasure to this day the letters which the Rebbe somehow found time to address to them individually, in response to ideological queries, requests for guidance in their personal or public lives, or requests for enlightenment or intercession.

Throughout those beautiful years during which the Rebbe received individuals and families for private audience (yechidus), both women and men in their tens of thousands were privileged to open their hearts to the Rebbe, and leave his presence with renewed strength and direction. In later years, other opportunities were opened to the menfolk — whether of the chassidic community or beyond it — of meeting the Rebbe face to face, soul to soul, for a fleeting but precious moment. And the very same opportunities were made available for the women and girls. During the New Year season, for example, usually on Hoshana Rabbah, the Rebbe personally handed the traditional slice of sweet cake (lekach) to vast numbers of women, each of whom heard the Rebbe’s voice as he offered them individually his blessings for “a good and sweet year.”

Finally, for six crowded years, the unique forum that came to be known throughout the world as simply “dollars” enabled innumerable thousands of men and women from all walks of life and from every corner of the world to be enriched and energized by a brief but unforgettable moment. To each of them the Rebbe handed a dollar to be given to charity and offered his blessings for success in their lifework, often adding an individual comment of direction or encouragement, and sometimes listening and responding to brief requests.3

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A Partner in the Dynamic of Creation is a thought-provoking collection of ten essays outlining a sampling of the Rebbe’s teachings on subjects of particular interest to women — social involvement, equal rights, family planning, enlightened parenting, women’s Torah study and mitzvah observance, and many other topical subjects. The essays are based on a selection out of the hundreds of talks which the Rebbe addressed at various times to audiences of women and/or men in Crown Heights, New York, as adapted over the years by Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht, Rabbi Yosef Halevi Loebenstein and Rabbi Eliyahu Touger. The adaptations as first published at their respective times by Sichos In English4 were reworked, amplified and annotated for the present collection by Uri Kaploun. The project was conceived and nurtured from beginning to end by Rabbi Yonah Avtzon, Director of Sichos In English. The Overview was written by Malka Touger; Yosef Yitzchok Turner gave the book its refreshing layout and typography; Avrohom Weg designed the cover.

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“The words of tzaddikim endure forever.”5 Every insight and every request and every directive of the Rebbe continues to address us today as it did in years past — if not with the same intensity as before, then with more. With this in mind, we at Sichos In English are confident that the insights, requests and directives presented in this work will fall upon attentive ears and find their sure way into responsive hearts. And when that happens, every reader who responds by acting may rest assured that his/her response will bring the Rebbe’s lifework one step closer to speedy fruition, with the coming of Mashiach in our own days.

Sichos In English

Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5755