On Shabbos Mevarchim Adar I, when the portion of Mishpatim was read, the Rebbe Shlita dedicated one of his sichos to the 12th annual gathering of the Alumni of Machon Chana.

The Rebbe indicated that the convention had begun on Friday and would continue into Sunday, thereby connecting the previous Shabbos and the following Shabbos with the present Shabbos. He went on to show that among the many fundamental, general topics covered in the Book of Shmos, Matan Torah, the laws of servitude and the Mishkan have special connection to women, for they were either first, or more highly respected in these matters. With the Chassidic interpretation that serving G‑d on the level of a “Jewish maidservant” is the loftiest level of Divine service, the Rebbe went on to explain that women must utilize their power to bring Mashiach and that men must appreciate, respect and assist the work of Jewish womanhood.

In conjunction with the Machon Chana Melaveh Malkah, held on Motzaei Shabbos Vayakhel, a special Yiddish edition of this sichah was issued. This English version is based on that edition and was published in connection with the “Week of the Jewish Woman,” 1986.

Shmos — A Book of Generalities

A careful overview of the book of Shmos (Exodus) will reveal that Shmos deals with many broad, essential topics of general and fundamental importance for the Jewish people.

The beginning of Shmos relates the story of the bondage in Egypt and the miracles of the Exodus, replete with all the dramatic details.

From the “Song of the Sea,” in the portion of Beshallach, Shmos leads us on to the gripping story of the revelation at Sinai (in Yisro) and the Giving of the Torah (Matan Torah). This is immediately followed by the related Sinaitic commandments, laws and social rules, to be observed between man and G‑d, and between man and man.

The concluding segments of Shmos vividly describe G‑d’s command, through Moshe, that the Jews should build a Tabernacle, and the subsequent involvement, on the part of all the Jews, in carrying out G‑d’s wishes to make a dwelling place for G‑dliness in the world.

Start With Matan Torah

Let us concentrate here on the latter part of the Book of Shmos, starting with Matan Torah.

The revelation at Sinai was the foundation and source of all Torah and Yiddishkeit. It was then that the Al-mighty chose the Jews as His people, and gave them His Torah to serve as a guiding light through life — for Jews, and all of creation — till the end of time. Matan Torah also infused Jews and all existence with the potential capability to purify the world through Torah, and to prepare the world as a dwelling place for the Shechinah.

In the first Torah portion after Matan Torah, Mishpatim, the Torah introduced mitzvos and laws that govern man’s existence in the world, and which will effect the needed steps that will invest the corporeal world with spirituality:

These are the laws that you must set before them [the Israelites]. If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh year, he is to be set free without liability. (Shmos 21:1-2)

Human Servitude — Divine Service

It should be noted that the institution of human servitude discussed in the Torah mirrors the general Divine service of man; to serve G‑d, to purify his material being and to elevate the world around him, through Torah and mitzvos. Chassidic philosophy also elucidates, that in man’s Divine service, as a “servant” of G‑d, there are three general categories: “Canaanite slave, Hebrew slave, and Hebrew maidservant,” all of which are discussed in Torah.

G‑d Wants a Sanctuary

After delineating the laws which will regulate the social order of the world, the Torah relates the details of the experience at Sinai and then goes on to speak of the Mishkan. It is in the following portion of Terumah that G‑d expresses His desire for a Tabernacle:

They shall make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them, (Ibid. 25:8)

indicating that the Tabernacle which the Jews should build would truly represent the fulfillment of G‑d’s wish for a “place” where the Shechinah could be manifest.

Thus, these fundamental subjects; the giving of the Torah, the laws of the Torah and the construction of the Mishkan, are discussed in the three portions of Yisro, Mishpatim and Terumah (continuing on through Pekudei). The order of these three topics also indicates a definite progression. First the power is bestowed from above (Matan Torah), then one must begin working as a slave to carry out his role (Mishpatim), and then he reaches the level of the sanctuary which provides the dwelling place (Terumah) — mission accomplished!

Education — Service — Holiness

We may also project these three stages into the more specific areas of a person’s Divine service. Matan Torah represents the aspect of education in Torah and mitzvos, which creates the framework within which one may attract the Shechinah. The servant state signifies our constant diligence in our Divine service, and the Tabernacle represents the successful completion and perfection of all the efforts expended to make the whole world (and our individual segments of the world), a dwelling place for G‑d.

There is another fundamental concept and general principle which this survey of Shmos sharply points out for us, especially in the three portions and topics under discussion.

But first: Jewish women and girls share the holy and all-important mission of carrying out G‑d’s plan for the world, and in many ways the role of the woman is more important and precedes the role of the man.

Jewish Woman — Builder of the Home

In the individual Jewish home the Jewish woman is referred to as the “AkeresHabayis — the essence and foundation of the home,” in physical as well as spiritual matters.

Now, in the three aspects of Divine service mentioned above, Jewish women also take precedence. Regarding education (Mat-tan Torah) we know that the Jewish mother wields the greatest influence on her children, from the youngest age, and she is, in fact, responsible for the earliest stages of education of her children. In the area of basiclife-work the Gemara relates:

How does a woman help a man? ...If a man brings wheat does he chew the wheat? If flax does he put on the flax? Does she not, then, bring light to his eyes and put him on his feet! (Yevamos 63a)

This means that the Jewish wife and mother converts the raw materials of the world into nourishing food and fitting garments, which may be efficiently utilized by Jewish men, women and children to serve G‑d.

The Jewish Home — Sanctuary

The third topic — the Tabernacle — is surely the domain of the woman, for the spirit and atmosphere of the home — the “miniature holy sanctuary” — is wholly dependent on the woman’s influence in the house.

With this in mind we may now understand how it is that in these three very basic aspects of Judaism the women take precedence.

Ladies First!

A) Before giving the Torah to the Jewish people, G‑d send Moshe to speak first to the women: “This is what you must say to the house of Yaakov” (Shmos 19:3), “These are the women” (Rashi, loc. cit.), “...and tell the Israelites” (Ibid.), “...these are the men” (Rashi, Ibid.).

B) When the Jews brought donations to Moshe for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) the Torah tells us: “The men accompanied the women” (35:22). Here, too, the women came first and they were followed by the men (cf. Rashi and Rambam loc. cit.).

These two points are clearly related. They came first at Matan Torah and to donate for the Mishkan, because they are also first in educating the children and in making the home a Mishkan!

C) In the area of the servitude of the Jewish slaves, as mirrored in the Divine service of every Jew, the position of Jewish maidservants is also loftier.

The Soul — A Slave with a Goal

The Zohar teaches that the sale and servitude of Jewish slaves is symbolic of the descent of the soul into the physical body and material world, with the purpose of being a servant or maidservant to G‑d, the Creator, and to purify and refine the body, the animal soul, and a segment of the corporeal world, through Torah and mitzvos — thereby effecting a dwelling place for G‑dliness (and thereby, also, becoming free).

Kabbalah goes on to explain that each person has the potential for three stages of Divine “servitude,” one above the other; “Canaanite slave,” “Hebrew slave” and the highest level, “Hebrew maidservant.”

The state of “Canaanite slave” refers to the initial stages of man’s Divine service, when he must overcome the primordial power of the animal soul that lusts for worldly pleasures. This is accomplished with fear of the Master and acceptance of His yoke; he bends the will of his animal soul to conform in actual deed, to the wishes of the Master.

The “Hebrew slave” has reached a higher plane, in him the divine attributes of the G‑dly soul irradiate the animal soul and influence it to feel some desire for G‑dliness as well. Nevertheless, the earthly desires have not been completely quieted nor subdued. This may be analogous to one who brings raw materials into the house, which must still be refined and prepared for human consumption.

Here we come to the highest level of Divine service, of the “Hebrew maidservant.” In this case the hedonistic desires for worldly pleasures have been completely sublimated and transformed. Here the soul desires only G‑dliness!

This is analogous to the role of the “maidservant,” who prepares the food for human needs by refining and changing “gross” substances to edible dainties. Just as the Zohar says, that the Jewish people “give support” to their “Father in Heaven.”

To Marry Her Master

But, the role of the “Hebrew maidservant” takes the soul even further. The ultimate goal and purpose of maid-servitude is to marry the master or his son — to leave the state of “maid” and become his “wife” — a unity which will draw the Shechinah into the world.

The spiritual analogy would be the odyssey of the soul upwards, from the world of Beriah to the world of Atzilus, from the state of “maid” to the state of “bride,” along the way effecting the purification of all physical impurities and the unification of the “Congregation of Israel” with the “Al-mighty.” This brings the ultimate fulfillment of providing a dwelling place for the essence of G‑d in the world.

Let us go back for a moment and review some of the halachic differences between a Hebrew slave and a Hebrew maidservant:

A Hebrew female slave may be sold (by her father) only to one with whom or with whose son a valid marriage can be effected, in order that she may be eligible for espousal. (Laws of Slaves 4:11)

This means that if we know that espousal cannot be arranged at the end of the period of servitude, then she may not be sold. The goal of female servitude is espousal!

Respect for the Jewish Maidservant

This indicates the high level of respect afforded to a Jewish girl. After all, in the case of a man:

If he does not have the means he must be sold [as a slave to make restitution] for his theft. (Shmos 22:2)

Simple and straightforward, no strings attached!

Not so a Jewish girl. The father may consider selling his daughter as a maidservant, for a shortperiod of time, only when he has lost all his possessions and eventheshirtonhisbackisborrowed! And, even under such dire circumstances the deal can only be valid if the ultimate goal of marriage to the master can be envisaged at the outset! If not — no deal!

This idea is also projected into the aforementioned spiritual state of “Hebrew maidservant.” When the soul is sent on its earthly journey into the body, it is only done because the ultimate goal of unity with G‑d is seen from the outset.

Thus, only in the case of the “female slave” are all these points of Divine service and the perfection of the soul so clear: To change the terrestrial world into a dwelling place for G‑dliness; to convert the attributes of the animal soul to desire only G‑dliness; the ultimate unity of the soul with G‑d.

Jewish Women Perfect the World

Now, this spiritual quality portrayed in the Jewish female slave is also transposed and metamorphosed in all Jewish daughters. In carrying out the Divine service of perfecting the world as a dwelling place for G‑d, the women have the major role.

They take the wheat and flax, which their husbands bring home, and prepare food and clothing. They provide the life and strength to live and serve G‑d. But beyond that, they fulfill the ultimate role and goal of marriage, building the Jewish home and bearing sons and daughters — the ultimate, consummate perfection!

Here we see the connection of the three portions, Yisro, Mishpatim and Terumah with the special qualities of Jewish women. For in these three portions we learn of the three general topics. Matan Toraheducation, the work of the femaleslave to effect the ultimate unity of G‑d and the Jewish people; and the creation of the perfect dwelling place for G‑d in the world, the Mishkan, in which the women helped first.

Two Important Lessons

A gathering of young Jewish women, such as the one which is taking place this week, finds special emphasis in its relationship with these three portions: Yisro, Mishpatim and Terumah. At the same time, we also discern a very important and significant double lesson:

A) Jewish women have a special mission and purpose in creating a dwelling place for G‑d in the world. How? By marrying and establishing a home — a miniature sanctuary — dedicated to G‑d. This includes her good influence on her husband in all areas of holiness and Torah and mitzvos. Likewise, in raising her children with a proper and pure Torah education. Furthermore, by being a living exemplar, she will also influence all her friends and acquaintances that they, too, will follow her good examples.

But this role of women also carries with it a very vital, long-range mission — that through their Divine service they must bring the ultimate and true redemption. For just as it was when our ancestors left Egypt:

As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt, (Sotah 11b)

so, too, must it be in our generation of the “footsteps of Mashiach,” when our souls are the reincarnation of the souls of the generation of the Exodus. The women are certainly ready to agree to leave the galus!

Man, Take Heed!

B) Here we find a second, very essential and penetrating lesson for all of us, especially for Jewish men.

All of our discussion to this point has focused on elevating the role and mission of Jewish women. Consequently, it now becomes clear just how important it is for Jewish men to show the proper respect and esteem for Jewish women and girls.

The Rambam expressed it thusly,

The sages have likewise ordained that a man should honor his wife more than his own self.... (Laws of Marriage 15:19)

This law surely applies to a Jew who already has proper self-respect; and at the same time he must show greater respect for his spouse.

Halachah rules that:

A person does not have absolute power over his body...he may not injure himself, nor shame (or degrade) himself, nor torture himself with self-inflicted pain. (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Laws of Bodily Damage para. 4)

Likewise, the Rambam rules that the body is the “possession of the Holy One, Blessed be He.” Something very plain and basic crystallizes here, that although a man’s wife is his “compatible helper” (Bereishis 2:18) and also dependent upon him, nevertheless, he must show her honor, esteem and respect, not equal to respect he demands for himself, but muchmore. What does this mean? that as much as he does for himself he must help his wife and encourage her even more than he cares for himself.

Respect Her! Assist Her!

When she requests assistance in a matter which he does not consider important, in fact, even if he considers it to be insignificant and downright trivial nevertheless, he has to lend a hand even if it means giving up some of his own comfort and time to help her.

Now, when we speak of matters pertaining to holiness, goodness and Torah and mitzvos, e.g. when a wife wants to study Torah or Chassidus, or if she wants to go out of the home to add her efforts to the work of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Torah to the outside, it goes without saying, that her husband must honor her desire — moreso than he would value his own desire — and give her encouragement and assistance, to the best of his ability.

Certainly there are limitations to the realm of women’s Torah study or fulfillment of mitzvos (cf. Alter Rebbe Laws of Torah Study, ch. 1). In the area of Chassidic philosophy, however, there are no limitations, for women are equally responsible to love G‑d, fear G‑d, etc, as they are also responsible to spread the teachings of Chassidus.

The previous Rebbe, in his memoirs, related stories of prominent Jewish women of the past, and the great honor afforded to them, especially in areas of Torah study.

[To enhance the power of the good resolutions and outcome of the gathering we will associate all those assembled here by setting aside part of the cake from this farbrengen — a physical matter — to be shared by the participants in the reunion.]

Good Resolution for the Future — Will Bring the Redemption!

May G‑d grant that the activities will see great success and the participants will undertake proper resolutions in conjunction with these concepts — to carry out the true holy mission of Jewish women and girls. In this way Jewish women will speed up the ultimate redemption, when the “marriage” of the “Congregation of Israel” and the Holy One, Blessed be He, will take place (cf. Shmos Rabbah ch 15).

Then we will see the perfect and ultimate revelation of G‑d’s dwelling place in the world and the great and lofty quality of women will be revealed when:

Let there speedily be the sound of a groom and the sound of a bride..., (Siddur)

speedily and truly in our time with joy and gladness of heart.