As we approach the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka on Kaf Beis Shvat, there are many important lessons we can learn from her life concerning the role of the Jewish woman in Jewish education and family life.
Education Towards Modesty
In many public discourses, the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach cites the importance of Chassidic education for Jewish girls. Their curriculum should be geared towards teaching them the laws of the Torah that apply to them and preparing them for their life’s mission: to educate their own children and raise them as soldiers in the Army of G-d. Beyond all else, the importance of modesty, as exemplified by Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, should permeate their education. “Modesty,” states the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach, “is the crown of the glory of the daughters of Israel, each of whom is called the daughter of Soro, Rivka, Rochel and Leah.” As the essential, definitive quality of every Jewish woman, it is a value that can not be overemphasized. The more it is taught and the earlier it is taught – with sincerity and conviction, the more it becomes an inseparable part of a child’s consciousness and self-image. As a subject of endless breadth and depth, both from the perspective of Jewish law and outlook, schools should make the teaching of modesty a part of their core curriculum, taught with at least the same frequency as chumash, parsha, novi and dinim. Moreover, there is hardly a lesson on any Jewish subject which does not contain a lesson in modesty: So many stories from the Torah and Talmud, so many lessons of our Sages of blessed memory surrounding festivals, laws and events in Jewish history concern the Jewish woman and her ultimate virtue, modesty. There are numerous discourses of the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach that deal with this subject. If one were to teach it from morning until night, every day, one could not exhaust the subject. And so, the thrust of Chassidic education for girls, including school contests, extra-curricular programs, assemblies, winter vacation and summer camps should all aim to promote modesty, a virtue as vast and infinite as holiness itself. As the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach states: “The matter of modesty is the matter of holiness.” Contrary to what some believe, modesty is in the nature of every Jewish girl; it is something she innately desires if it is inculcated with sincerity and love. Moreover, as the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach teaches, it is the single guarantee of a happy life with one’s husband, nachas from children and grandchildren, good health and material sustenance. It is the defining quality of Jewish womanhood articulated by King David in Psalms, “All the nobility of the King’s daughter is within,” the incomparable beauty of which makes a woman beautiful outwardly as well. The above makes it clear that no spiritual inheritance is as precious to a Jewish woman as modesty. As such, no greater responsibility rests on the shoulders of every Lubavitch school administration than to make modesty an inseparable part of every girl’s life.
The Jewish Home
As mentioned, one of the major aims of Chassidic education for girls is to prepare them to become mothers who will teach their own children Torah and mitzvos. The Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach cites the vital role of the Jewish woman in building her own mishkan (sanctuary): a home filled with the light and warmth of Torah and love of mitzvos. Her task is to encourage and support her husband’s learning of Torah; to take an active part in educating her sons; and to teach her daughters that their mission now is to assist their brothers in learning Torah, and when they grow up, to assist their husbands to learn Torah. When she does so, her investment in the physical aspects of the home - cleaning, cooking, attending to her children’s needs - is elevated to holiness, on par with the physical work of the High Priest in the Holy Temple. Specifically, Jewish women have three primary mitzvos to uphold: Jewish dietary laws, Family Purity and the lighting of Sabbath candles. In Hebrew they form the acronym HaCheN, meaning, Grace : Hadlokas HaNer, Challo, Niddo, because these mitzvos are the source of true grace – physical and spiritual - in the Jewish home. The following is a brief explanation of each:
Jewish dietary laws - The Ramban explains that when one eats the flesh of an animal, it is consumed in the body and becomes an inseparable part of one’s flesh and blood. Its integration into the body is not only physical but spiritual as well: The animal’s essence is absorbed and becomes a part of the person who eats it. Thus, explains the Ramban, one of the reasons why non-kosher animals and fowl may not be eaten is that they prey on others and in eating them their cruelty is absorbed into one’s character. Conversely, the laws of Kashrus ennoble the Jew, making him refined and compassionate.
The Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach teaches that the Jewish dietary laws have a unique application in Jewish early childhood education. As Judaism teaches, the five senses are the portals through which the physical world penetrates one’s soul, similar to the way food enters the body through the mouth. Specifically, the things that a person sees and hears affect him spiritually. This is all the more so concerning children: A child is in a dynamic, formative state; he is keenly attuned to his surroundings and affected by them. Hence, in the same way that eating a non-Kosher animal affects a Jew’s soul, the sight or sound of a non-Kosher animal leaves its imprint on the soul of a child and fosters negative character traits in him. For this reason, the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach instructs parents and educators to guard their children from exposure to the sight of a non-kosher animal, be it on the street, in the zoo, in a story book, in the form of a toy or on clothes.
Family Purity – Observance of the laws of family purity affects the essence of the children to be born, making them pure and holy and purifying the garments of their souls. As the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach teaches, it also guarantees that they will be born healthy.
Family Purity concerns not only the laws of nidda but the fundamental, all-encompassing laws of modesty. A woman’s observance of Family Purity is incomplete if she dresses or acts in an immodest way. And it is important to remember that the laws of modesty are not confined to matters of dress: Modesty entails that a woman refrain from speaking to a man who is not her husband, unless absolutely necessary; it goes without saying that she refrain from chatting with male neighbors, store salesmen, her doctor, cousins - even her own brothers; that she not attract attention on the street or other public places where men are present, by speaking or laughing out loud; that when male guests are in her home, she and her daughters sit in a separate room; that on Shabbos, when guests are present, men and women sit at separate tables in different rooms, or with a partition in between; that she refrain from attending classes delivered by men (the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach permits men to teach women only when they are emissaries in an area where women teachers are not available. Otherwise, the rule set down by the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach is: “Men [with men] in the men’s section, women [with women] in the women’s section”); it goes without saying that she refrain from attending “farbrengan” delivered by men which are a platform for promiscuity and a desecration of Lubavitch. Concerning doctor’s visits, Jewish women have to “live with the times”: Today, female doctors are every bit as competent as males, and just as numerous; under ordinary circumstances, unless the health issue involves a danger to the woman’s life, she should not be examined by a male doctor. Lighting Shabbos Candles – The light of the Shabbos candles fills the home with holiness and imparts to it beauty, spiritual and physical, that illuminates the entire world. These fundamental aspects of the Jewish woman reflect themselves in the name of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the paradigm of Jewish motherhood and modesty: Chaya, means life, and denotes the woman’s role as the source of vitality in the home, both as one who brings Chassidic children into the world who fill the home with dynamism and life, and as one who infuses her home with the life force of Torah; Mushka derives from the root “mushk,” or musk, a spice used, according to some opinions, in the incense offered in the Holy Temple, and denoting the fragrant aromas of the Jewish home – both that of the delicious food a mother makes for her family as well as the spirit of Torah instilled through the physical and spiritual nourishment she provides in the Holy Temple of her own making. These were the qualities of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and of the righteous women of Egypt in whose merit the Jewish People were redeemed. And with these qualities the women of our generation, who possess the souls of the latter, will actualize the revelation of the Great Rebbe of Lubavitch King Moshiach and the true and complete Redemption right away, now. Long live our Master, Teacher and leader King Moshiach forever and ever!