Devorah Leah Halperin, Beis Moshiach
When discussing chinuch a verse that is often quoted is one from Mishlei: ”Listen, my son, to the rebuke of your father, and do not abandon the teachings of your mother.” This verse expresses the educational responsibilities of both the father and the mother toward their children. Although the primary obligation of chinuch is on the father, our Sages assert that the mother is not exempt. This is an obligation derived from the mitzva “Love your fellow as yourself.” Thus, it is also the mother’s obligation to guide her children to go on the path of Torah and mitzvos.
That is the way it was throughout the generations. The educational role was divided between the mother and father on two fundamental planes. The father taught Torah and if he found it difficult to do so, he hired a teacher for his children. The mother guided the children in how to observe mitzvos and what is the proper path to follow.
In the teachings of Chassidus in general, and especially in the sichos and letters of the Rebbe, the role reserved for the mother is crucial and major, sometimes more so than that of the father. The mother has a special ability to instill the way of Torah and mitzvos in the heart of her child so that he will not veer from it even in times of crisis when he gets older.
In a sicha the Rebbe delivered on 27 Iyar 5737, he notes the special educational power of a mother and says:
A melamed, teacher, and guide cannot instill as deeply in the heart of a child as the mother can, when she invests her heart and mind that her child should acquire the proper attitudes toward life, by training him from his childhood to the awareness that the Torah is his life and Judaism is his guide in life. That which the mother instills penetrates his heart very deeply and remains with him all his life.
This is said not only about the child’s early years when the mother has the almost exclusive task of dealing with his chinuch, but even later, when the child grows older, the mother can accomplish more than the father who is busy with parnassa. She has more time, more patience, and more of a natural inclination to be devoted to her children in all areas, especially those main things needed to shape the child from the start, so he knows what is essential and the foundation upon which his behavior should be based. And when the day comes, he will set up his own home and educate his children in this way.
From the Rebbe’s words it is clear that the educational work of the mother is no less than that of the father and is even more; the mother has the ability to instill Jewish values in her child in such a way that it will remain with him forever.
A Woman In Academia Or A Mother At Home?
In recent years, more and more religious women in and out of Chabad are going to college, spending a lot of time and money on obtaining an advanced education. The advertisements to earn a degree in an array of fields appear in most frum papers and media.
The truth needs to be stated: a woman who attends college or courses after she is married, is busy for years with her schooling, homework, tests and field work which require enormous amounts of time and investment of her intellectual and emotional abilities. Very little time is left over for her husband and children.
When her hard work and money pay off and she earns the degree and a good job, she is busy from morning till night. But what about her children? When does she have time to educate her children and instill the ways of Torah and Chassidus in them? For many such women, their children spend way more time with the babysitter than with their mother.
Note: The following applies only in those cases where going to work is needed for the money, for otherwise, there is no heter (allowance) made to study secular subjects which pollute the mind as it says in Tanya chapter 8.
What Is The Main Role Of A Married Bas Yisrael?
The Rebbe wrote a letter which was sent to my wife’s aunt, Edna Yitzchaki Navon, thirty-two years ago. The letter is from 16 Kislev 5744 and says:
In general, the natural, primary role of every mother is raising and educating her children (including running the home) and a lack in fulfilling this inner role disturbs peace of mind etc., especially when the children are young.
Whether there is room (and time) for a secondary role depends on the individual family, but in most cases, not as a role but to put some routine into the day, to lessen the stress of thinking of one thing all the time.
The story behind this answer is straightforward. At that time, my aunt lived in Haifa and she worked as a director of events at a five star hotel, a job which required a great deal of dedication and work day and night. That year, she gave birth to her third child and when she finished maternity leave she was faced with a dilemma, whether to return to work and give the infant to a babysitter or to leave her job and raise her child. Upon the advice of her sister-in-law, Nechama Chaya Navon, she wrote to the Rebbe.
The Rebbe’s answer was clear, a woman’s primary role is raising her children and the allowance for women to work is only on condition that it not interfere with her main role.
This letter reminded me of another letter of the Rebbe which was published in this magazine a few years ago:
The primary role of a married bas Yisrael is to be a proper akeres ha’bayis, i.e. running the house in general and especially raising her children. This also fits with what it says, “the entire glory of a princess is within.”
It was with difficulty that they permitted her to be involved in outside activities, when this involves chinuch of Jewish children, since women have a special motherly feeling for children, and therefore their influence is greater and deeper.
Or, in order to exempt the husband (who is diligently learning Torah) from parnassa concerns, or if the husband is working to support his family and despite his efforts it is not enough and the wife’s help is needed to support the family.
The Sicha That Flooded The Rebbe’s Office With Letters
From these two responses it is clear that a career can be considered only if it does not affect a Jewish woman’s main job which is the chinuch and raising of her children. The Rebbe emphasizes this principle in many sichos and letters, especially to counter the feminist movement which began to take hold in the US and then spread to the rest of the world, including Eretz Yisrael. The feminist movement maintains that a woman will attain fulfillment only if she attains the same job or income level as a man, and it was this idea that the Rebbe challenged.
The following is an excerpt of a sicha which the Rebbe gave on 6 Tishrei 5734 on this subject:
And Chana did not go up [to Shilo] for she told her husband, not until the child is weaned [at two years]. Why did Chana forgo going to Shilo? Her husband Elkana was very rich and could have taken the baby along to Shilo under the best conditions (along with servants and maids who would look after the baby), or hire a caregiver to take care of the baby for a few weeks [while she went to Shilo]. And considering that fact that she was a prophetess and obviously she would sense the G-dly revelation in the Beis HaMikdash far greater [than others would].
Rather, Chana felt that if she stayed home she would be able to be more devoted to her son, Shmuel. This detail in the story of Chana and Shmuel is related in Torah [Tanach] for it contains a lesson:
There is a woman who feels the need to join a minyan, to have an aliya to the Torah, etc. She thinks this is the only way for her to achieve fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction. The Torah says that a woman has something loftier than even aliya l’regel to G-d’s house in Shilo – guaranteeing the future of the Jewish people, guaranteeing that there will be children and grandchildren that can be brought to “Shilo.”
From those in the know I heard that right after that sicha the Rebbe’s secretaries were flooded with letters written by Lubavitcher women who worked as teachers, asking the Rebbe whether they should resign from their positions and stay home with their children. Of course the answer was no, but at the same time the Rebbe emphasized the need not to get swept up with the feminist ideals. Going out to work – yes, because of the exigencies of the times, because in most cases the husband’s salary is not enough, but at the same time, not to forget the Jewish woman’s primary occupation, raising and educating her children.
The Rebbe’s Chiddush
So what did the Rebbe innovate as far as the role of women in modern times?
The Rebbe’s innovation, different than what was prevalent in the Torah world previously, which was to limit Torah study to men, is that he addressed his teachings to men and women equally. Due to the fact that women are already studying secular subjects, said the Rebbe in a yechidus with the Belzer Rebbe and others, and since the reason brought in the Gemara to prevent women from studying Torah is lest it infuse her with cleverness (in the negative sense, i.e., self-serving rationalizations), being that in our generation this cleverness is being introduced to them via secular subjects, it is preferable that they study Torah. That would serve as a counterbalance to the secular studies.
Furthermore, the Rebbe said special sichos to women in which he called upon them to study penimiyus ha’Torah, so they too would develop a love and fear of G-d.
This revolution also has a goal connected to the very core of shlichus. When the Rebbe sent a young couple to the front lines to fight assimilation, he expected the wife to take an active part, no less than her husband. When young yeshiva students were sent by the Rebbe out to the streets to put tefillin on with Jewish passersby, young women were sent to shopping malls, hospitals, and schools in order to give out Shabbos candles to Jewish women and girls. At the same time, the Rebbe strongly stressed the need to observe Jewish rules of modesty.
At the beginning of the 1950’s, and more broadly twenty years later in the 70’s, most of the feminist movements rejected traditional roles and wanted to give women the right to copy men in the social, economic, and political arenas. The Rebbe’s approach is the opposite of the commonly accepted feminist ideal. The Rebbe is an ardent defender of the traditional approach, which sees the woman primarily as the akeres ha’bayis.
G-d gave man and woman different roles, said the Rebbe, and when a woman denies her femininity and tries to copy men, her feminine potential is not utilized and she does not derive true satisfaction from her training and her activities. The Rebbe demonstrated that the role of a woman is equal to that of a man and sometimes surpasses it, so ironically, the desire to imitate men comes from a low self-image.
In a sicha that the Rebbe said on Shabbos, Parshas Shlach 5742/1982, he referred specifically to this topic and clearly refuted the ideology of the feminist movement:
There are those who champion equal rights for women, to equalize the rights of women to those of men.
True equal rights is when each individual attains ultimate wholeness in accordance with the nature, talents, and the opportunities G-d provided, and therefore, the man needs to do those jobs given to men and the woman needs to do those jobs given to women. Furthermore, when a woman imitates a man and demands the same roles as a man, which allow for building such and such a type of career, she creates a lack of equality and demeans the position of women, for she is testifying that she is on a lower level.
The ideology of equal rights goes contrary to the mitzva of the Torah, “a man’s clothing (weapons) shall not be on a woman and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment.” Each person ought to conduct himself according to his nature and the woman should not try to imitate the man. Both men and women have different roles which are important in and of themselves, and should not and cannot measure one against the other.
Furthermore, it is only when a woman fulfills her role and mission as a woman that she attains genuine emotional satisfaction and does away with misgivings and envy, for she is happy with her lot knowing that in this way she is attaining good fortune and wholeness (as the Torah emphasizes the great merit of Jewish women and girls in a number of places).
Whoever works in chinuch knows that there is no comparison between a child whose mother is home most of the time, being there in the morning when he leaves for school with his snack and a kiss, and greeting him when he comes home with a nourishing meal, who has the time and emotional availability to keep track of his daily schedule and do homework with him, as compared to a child whose mother is busy working and is not home enough, who doesn’t see him out to school and doesn’t greet him when he comes home, and who has a hard time keeping up with his progress in school.
This is a reality that teachers deal with every day. They cry out for parents’ cooperation and don’t get it, not because parents don’t care but because they have no time.
A therapist with years of experience told me that most of the children who come to him to be diagnosed and treated have a fear of abandonment, which intensifies their emotional issues. He says that due to the severe economic situation and the need for parents to put time and thought into surviving, they do not have the emotional availability to listen to their children even when they are actually physically together!
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