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Women’s Work

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Women's work

In the forty-four years of his leadership, the Rebbe delivered thousands of talks, totaling tens of thousands of hours. One might therefore think that much of his teachings still awaits publication. In actuality, the very opposite is true: over the years, virtually every word that passed his lips has been meticulously recorded by his disciples. In addition, hundreds of talks have been edited, annotated, translated and adapted in a great variety of publications and other media. In all, more than two hundred volumes of his talks have been published to date. Thus, a hitherto unpublished talk of the Rebbe’s is a rare find. One such treasure was recently discovered in the Rebbe’s library.

In the summer of 1953, a group of six Worcester women made the seven-hour (in those pre-interstate days) trip to New York to meet with the Rebbe. The Rebbe received them in his study, and addressed them briefly about women’s work. One of the participants was a nurse, and this most likely prompted the Rebbe’s use of her profession as an analogy and demonstration of the idea he conveyed to them in his talk.

The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish, but he asked Mrs. Rochele Fogelman, who headed the group, to make an English transcript of his remarks. Mrs. Fogelman did so, and sent her only copy of the transcript to the Rebbe. Nearly forty-three years later, the transcript was discovered in the Rebbe’s library. The Rebbe had added the month and year “Tammuz 5713” (June-July 1953) at the top of the page, and the words “transcript of talk to the women from Worcester,” but had otherwise made no notes or corrections. What follows is a lightly-edited version of this transcript.

The Torah places much emphasis on the responsibility of one Jew for the spiritual welfare of his or her fellows. A Jew is charged to foster in his fellow Jews a closeness to Torah, and to impart to them a love for yiddishkeit so that they should eagerly and cheerfully abide by its precepts and practices.

While this task is incumbent upon both men and women, it is the woman who possesses the greater capacity—and thus carries the greater share of the responsibility—to achieve it. Generally speaking, there are two methods that might be employed when seeking to influence human behavior: stern rebuke, or gentle, kindly words. The way of Torah is the way of shalom, peace, and kiruv, drawing close; G-d is good, and it is His desire that those who do His work apply themselves with kindness and love. Because the woman has been blessed with an innately tender and sympathetic nature, her character is akin to and expressive of the Torah ideal of compassionate kiruv; thus, she possesses a greater capacity to influence her fellow Jews to perfect their behavior in accordance with the way of Torah.

The human being possesses both a body and a soul. The Jew sees the body and the soul as interrelated, indeed bound together. Thus, by examining the way things are regarding a physical phenomenon, we gain insight into its spiritual counterpart.

When a person is ill, he consults a doctor. The doctor, who understands the physical workings of the body, diagnoses the nature of the illness and prescribes treatment. If the case warrants, hospital care is recommended. But the organization of the hospital is such that, whereas the doctor prescribes the treatment, the nurse is the one who usually administers it. Regarding this, it may be noted that nursing is predominantly a woman’s profession—a fact readily discernible in hospitals, where, with only rare exceptions, the nurses are women. This reflects the fact that women are inherently suited to nursing. With their natural tenderness and patience, they can sweeten a bitter-tasting medicine and make a most difficult medical procedure more tolerable.

The same is true regarding the care of the soul. If a Jew suffers from a deficiency in his spiritual health, it becomes necessary to treat him so that he may be cured.  To procure a remedy for his spiritual ills, one must consult the authority that, like the doctor who is the expert for the body’s needs, knows and understands the needs of the soul. For the Jew, these needs are embodied by the Torah and its mitzvot. But the expert who diagnoses and prescribes the treatment is not necessarily the one who is best suited to administer it. Thus we come to the role of the spiritual “nurse”—an individual with the compassion, sensitivity and patience that the task requires.

As is the case regarding physical medicine, the woman has been blessed with a character that makes her optimally suited to serve as a spiritual “nurse”—one who draws one’s fellow Jews closer to Torah with kindness, benevolence, gentleness and love. A woman’s strength is such that she can prevail upon others to fulfill the mitzvot—including those mitzvot that might, on the surface, seem difficult or “bitter-tasting”— with willing acceptance and joy.

A woman’s first responsibility is to the spiritual care of her family. But, as the Baal Shem Tov would say, all Jews are brothers and sisters. Thus, her “nursing” efforts should extend beyond the confines of her immediate family to encompass any and all of her fellow Jews.

May you and your families have a healthy, happy summer. May you have happy Jewish, Chassidic homes, such that they may stand out as an example thereof.  Turn Worcester into a Chassidic city, so that from Chicago to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh all will have heard of, and point to, Worcester as an example of a Chassidic city.

May you realize much nachas from your children: Jewish nachas, nachas that you readily perceive and enjoy.

Please extend my regards to your husbands.

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One Response to “Women’s Work”

  1. Kelly

    With your comment about women and nursing or being a nurse it sounds as if you are saying that women are not suited to be doctors. How do you explain the ability of women to be lawyers, doctors etc. male dominated professions? Is it inherently against a womans nature to be in these professions?

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