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Through The Eyes of a Woman

The Sixth of Tishrei: Yahrzeit of Rebbitzin Chanah

From a shiur in honor of the Yahrzeit of Rebbitzin Chanah
The saintly mother of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

 

I

On the yahrzeit of every Jew, and particularly that of a tzaddik or tzadeikes, our Sages tell us that the person's mazal radiates forth in a particularly powerful way. Chassidus explains that the mazal is that aspect of a person's Neshamah which transcends his physical being. For this reason it is not affected by death, and even after the tzaddik or tzadeikes has passed on to the World of Truth, their mazal radiates forth on the day that they were born.

The day that a Jewish soul enters a physical body is a critical day in the person's entire life. Furthermore, it has an effect on the entire universe, according to the Baal Shem Tov, because that Neshamah fulfills G-d's purpose in creating the entire universe by fulfilling Torah and mitzvos here on earth. Similarly, the day on which a Neshamah departs from the body, which has been its "home" in this world, is also of vital importance -- for all of the Torah and mitzvos which the person actually fulfilled throughout his or her life come to their completion.

Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, explains that when a person passes away, he or she does not cease to exist. Rather the person continues to exist on a different plane. The Neshamah is released from the limitations of a human body, and in a sense is much more powerful after death than in life. In this sense, the presence of Rebbitzin Chanah's Neshamah is with us here tonight, her yahrzeit, in a very powerful way, as it has been ever since Vav Tishrei, the sixth of Tishrei, 5725 (1964), the year she passed on to the World of Truth.

I would like to try and introduce Rebbitzin Chanah to those women in this audience who didn't have the merit of knowing her when she was alive in this world. Who was this woman whom HaShem selected from all the great Jewish women throughout history to be the one to give birth to the illustrious Lubavitcher Rebbe? What was so special about her that she was chosen to bear this child in her womb and to forever have the credit of being the eim habanim smeichah -- the joyous mother of children -- the mother of the Rebbe?

 


 

The Jewish Child

The sichah I chose to learn with you tonight is one that the Rebbe delivered several years ago, some time after the Rebbitzin's departure from this earth. As is well known, in connection with his mother's yahrzeit, often the Rebbe analyzes verses from Tanach which discuss the prophetess Chanah, to reveal facets of his mother's character.

A section in the Book of Shmuel I describes how Chanah the prophetess accompanied her husband, Elkanah, to the Mishkan in Shilo. She cried bitterly because she did not have any children. Her husband, Elkanah, became aware of how bitter and sad her life was, and he asked her, "Why are you so sad? Am I not better for you than ten sons? There are things in life other than children. HaShem has seen fit to prevent you from having children. But you're a good woman, you do a lot of chesed, there are many mitzvos to fill your life with, other than children!"

Now, interestingly, we do not see that Chanah said anything to her husband in reply. Actions speak louder than words. She didn't correct him, she didn't reprimand or contradict him, she just went ahead to the Mishkan and prayed from the depths of her heart, and cried out to HaShem that He bless her with children. She didn't accept Elkanah's attempt to appease her. She did not make peace with the fact that she would not be able to bear children. The text goes on to describe how Eli, the Kohen Gadol at the time, watched Chanah praying silently. At first he reprimanded her, accusing her of being intoxicated, but later, when he realized that she was simply pouring her heart out to HaShem, he blessed her that she should have children. The story has a happy ending, for Chanah became the mother of the great prophet, Shmuel, and six other sons as well. Commentaries explain that she is the joyous mother (eim habanim) alluded to in Tehillim, and recited in Hallel.

Chanah had made an oath that if she would be blessed with a child, she would dedicate him to the service of HaShem. When Shmuel was two years old, she fulfilled her promise. She brought her young son to the Mishkan, and there he dedicated his life to the service of HaShem, becoming a prophet of great stature, so great that our Sages even compare him to Moshe Rabbeinu. However, for the first two years of her child's life, while he was still a nursing infant, Chanah did not go to Shiloh, the site of the Mishkan. Before she had children, Chanah went up to the Mishkan every year with her husband. When Shmuel was born, however, she chose to stay home and take care of him.

From Chanah's actions, the Rebbe has derived several teachings, hora'os which apply to every Jewish woman. One of these teachings is the great importance of every single Jewish child. We live in a world today, that tells us that having children is not such a great thing. It's not so important, especially if you already have two. And if you already have three, or four, five, six, or seven -- it's enough already! Who needs another one?! We live in a world that is filled with propaganda regarding "family planning," which teaches prospective parents how to limit the size of their family and how to space the children conveniently apart.

The Rebbe emphasizes the value of every single Jewish child, even if it is the tenth, or the eleventh, the twelfth, or the fifteenth! Every Jewish child has tremendous importance, not only to his mother, father and siblings, but to the Jewish People as a whole. And as long as HaShem has granted a woman the ability to give birth to another Jewish child, then that is her first mission, her most important shlichus in the world, which takes precedence over any other mission, and any other activity in which she could be involved.

The Rebbe mentioned that some women feel that they have done their duty regarding childbearing. They have a girl and a boy, a big one and a little one. Perhaps now is the time to take a break, not (G-d forbid) to do a little tap dancing, but to do worthy things, mitzvos, like bikur cholim (visiting the sick), being active in the Rebbe's mitzvah campaigns, etc. So what's wrong with that? That's very noble, very right. The Rebbe responded as follows: Anything that a Jewish woman could do for the world, for the Jewish People, had she not been pregnant and given birth to that child, comes nowhere near the great accomplishment of having, and bearing, and bringing up another Jewish Neshamah in the world. No one should think that anything is more important than that activity. And if HaShem has decreed that a certain sector of the population will have the shlichus of bearing, tending to and educating a large family, then those women must know their priority -- that their main contribution to the Jewish People as a whole is to bring down another Jewish Neshamah.

Moreover, this also hastens the coming of Mashiach, because our Sages declare that, "Mashiach will not arrive until there are no more Neshamos in Guf." Now, the word "Guf" in this context does not follow its traditional meaning of "body." Here the word means "treasury," or "repository." Just as there is a treasury of rain, and of other things, there is also a treasury of neshamos that have not yet been born. Somewhere in the upper worlds this treasury exists, and its name is "Guf." And only when all the neshamos in this treasury have been born, will Mashiach come.

Now, as each woman becomes pregnant a Neshamah becomes attached to the body of the child which is forming. Even nine months, eight and seven months before the child is actually born, the Neshamah from Guf already belongs to that particular body. Mashiach will arrive when there are no more neshamos left there. We can be sure that the number of neshamos decreases day by day, and that there is a finite number of neshamos which will one day all be born. As we draw closer to the coming of Mashiach, the treasury is continually decreasing. Each woman who has a child, even if it is her tenth, has mesirus nefesh to bring that child into the world. She does not have the child only for her own sake, or for the sake of the child himself, but for the sake of the generations of Jews who are waiting for Mashiach to come -- and he will not come until the storehouse of neshamos is empty.

The Rebbe has repeated time and again that our generation is on the threshold of Mashiach, and so this mission becomes even more vital than in the past. After I gave birth to my sixth child, my parents came from the United States to Jerusalem to celebrate the birth and the bris. It was a Thursday night, close to midnight, and I was taking care of the laundry, the cooking, nursing the baby and answering the phone. My father was sitting in the dining room, learning. At some point he looked up from the sefer over which he was poring, and said, "This is the most difficult of all of the Rebbe's mivtzaim (mitzvah campaigns)." We know that if it were not for the Rebbe pushing us and encouraging us, we might not have the strength, motivation and determination which is required after seven, eight, and nine children. But the Rebbe presented us with a mission, a cosmic mission, of bringing Jewish children into the world.

The Rebbe also quoted an expression -- banei, chayei, mezona -- which means, children, life and sustenance, things that we all pray for daily. The Rebbe asks why the expression is in this order? We know that every word in the Torah is precise. Chronologically, we don't begin with children -- children come after marriage, and after the person is already somewhat established, when he already has chayei and mezona -- life and sustenance. The first thing we need is chayei, life and health, and then we are in a position to worry about parnassah, earning a living. What good is parnassah if there's no life and health? Hence the logical order of these words should surely be chayei -- life, and then mezona -- parnassah. Only then should they be followed by banei -- children. However, we see that the order is reversed. Why? The answer is that this very expression emphasizes the most important thing in life. If there are no children, of what value are chayei and mezona? The Rebbe pointed out that HaShem gave Avraham Avinu many blessings and promises. Before Yitzchak was born however, Avraham said, "HaShem, of what value is all this if I am barren, and my servant Eliezer is my only heir?"

This is the lesson that the Rebbe teaches us. As women it is important for us to know the importance of having children, and spreading this message to others.

On a few occasions I have spoken with women who were contemplating abortions, or who were using birth control. After one good, serious, heart-to-heart talk, they made the decision not to abort their child, or to stop using birth control so that they could have another child. I mentioned to my husband that when I stand before HaShem, I will tell Him that if I did nothing at all in my life, there are another two Jews in this world because of me. I think it's important for all of you to know this, and to share it with other people, because we don't know the value of one good dose of truth for someone who is wavering about a life-and-death decision!

Another point that the Rebbe emphasized in the story of Chanah, was the fact that she stayed home for the first two years of her son's life. She did not join Elkanah on his pilgrimage to the Mishkan in Shiloh for the Festivals -- the aliyah leregel. Again, the Rebbe asks a question. Couldn't Chanah have hired a babysitter? Surely in those days they had babysitters! She could have taken somebody to watch baby Shmuel when she went to the Mishkan. After all, Chanah was a prophetess, a woman with ruach hakodesh. Surely she would have benefited greatly from going to the Mishkan, the dwelling-place of the Shechinah, for the High Holy Days? But she gave it up for two whole years, just to watch a baby! And the lesson is, that this devotion which Chanah showed to her child, as documented in the Torah for eternity, teaches us again that what a Jewish mother can give to her child, cannot be duplicated by the very best babysitters.

Now, although the Rebbe did not imply that one should never leave the baby with a babysitter, what he did imply was that we should not make light of our G-d-given mission of giving our children the education and the love and everything else that only the biological mother can give, and must give her child. The chinuch and impressions which a child receives from his mother during the formative years of his life, when he's too small to talk and too small to read, are the most crucial and critical in the entire life of the child. And what mothers knew all along, has now also been proved by psychologists.

There are many many women who would love to observe this precept, and would love to be the mothers of large families. However, due to whatever reason HaShem in His Infinite Wisdom has, He may see fit to give them a shlichus which does not include bearing children. I have had many occasions in my life where people sat in my house and cried and said, "I wish I were in your shoes. I am envious that you have this mission. I would love to do it." But can we understand HaShem's ways? For every Jew there is a shlichus. The Rebbe said clearly and unequivocally that every mitzvah in the Torah constitutes the command of p'ru u'revu -- "Be fruitful and multiply!" That was the first mitzvah that was commanded to Adam. However, there are 70 facets to the Torah, and every mitzvah in the Torah can be observed on the material plane, as well as on the spiritual plane.

We have to understand not only the literal meaning of the Torah, but the hora'ah, the spiritual lesson behind it. What is the inner dimension of p'ru u'revu, of "be fruitful and multiply?" It means, to make another Jew... Jewish! Literally, p'ru u'revu means -- have a Jewish baby, and because of you there is another Jew in the world. But if for reasons known to HaShem alone, you cannot at this particular time bear a Jewish child, then you can still fulfill the mitzvah of p'ru u'revu. How? By working with a Jew who doesn't really care about being Jewish, or count himself or herself as being part of the Jewish nation. A Jew who would write U.S. as his nationality, rather than Jew. When you take such a person, and you work with him -- by inviting him for Shabbos, and showing him hospitality, when that person is now much more Jewish because of you... So that perhaps the next time he is asked his nationality, he might write down, "Jewish." Then, if you have been instrumental in some way in helping to make another Jew Jewish, you have fulfilled the spiritual dimension of the mitzvah of p'ru u'revu. If you can in some way influence an unlearned Jew, our Sages tell us that "talmidim are like banim" -- your students are like your children.

Perhaps a woman's ability to bear children, or the lack of it, is due to previous gilgulim, incarnations. Many things which do not make sense in this world can be explained by understanding that almost everyone went through previous incarnations, and the purpose of one's present incarnation might well be to rectify a previous incarnation. We are told that this world is like a puzzle. Did you ever clean the house and find a piece of a puzzle? What is it? Is it a tree? Is it a house? It just looks like a blob of color. It has no meaning until you find the rest of the puzzle, and then, all of a sudden... This is our life, it makes no sense, unless you know what has happened in the past, and what will happen in the future. Perhaps the woman with the ten children didn't have any in a previous gilgul. She needed to go through the experience of raising children to complete the mission of her Neshamah.

The woman who cannot find a shidduch and therefore cannot have children perhaps fulfilled that mission to the utmost in a previous gilgul, and in this generation before Mashiach, has to go through the torture of being alone. Who knows? One thing we do know, is that there are no mistakes. Every woman was given, exactly and precisely, the shlichus that requires her to develop those areas of her life that were uncompleted by previous visits to this earth. If this alone is some consolation to those people who are not blessed with children, then, so be it.

 


The Previous Rebbe's name was Yosef Yitzchak. During this past year (5750/1990), which was the fortieth year of our Rebbe's leadership of Chabad and world Jewry, the Rebbe spoke on numerous occasions about the significance of the Previous Rebbe's name. The name Yosef comes from the verse in the Torah that Rachel said as soon as she had given birth to her first son, "Yosef HaShem li ben acher." Translated literally, it means, "May HaShem grant me an additional son." However, the Rebbe offers an additional interpretation of the verse: "May HaShem grant me the ability to make a "ben" from an "acher!" May HaShem give us the ability to turn a Jew who regards himself as an "acher" -- he thinks he is American, he thinks he is English, he thinks he is French -- and make him into a "ben" -- a son of the Jewish people. That was the lifework of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. Making many, many achers into banim and banos of the Jewish people.

What does the name Yitzchak signify? It comes from the word "tzchok," laughter, joy. The methodology of Chabad, as we see clearly in the writings of all of our Rebbes, and particularly in the works of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, is not to go about their work with a big stick. Simchah, joy, a big smile and lots of warmth and friendliness are the Chabad way that the name of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak represents. This is the way of Yitzchak. If I don't have a ben of my own, a biological son, then HaShem wants me to spend my energy and my time turning the achers in the world into banim.

Those of us who have small children may have been puzzled by the number of directives that the Rebbe has been giving, one after another, over the last ten years. First the Rebbe said that we shouldn't hang pictures of non-kosher animals in the child's crib or on the wall -- so all the mobiles that had Mickey Mouse went out the window. The mothers in America went so crazy that you couldn't find a single picture of a treif animal in their homes. Then when that was over the Rebbe said that a Jewish child should have a Siddur, Tanya and Chumash in his room, and finally a tzedakah box with the child's name and LaShem HaAretz U'Meloah. One after another the Rebbe gave us more and more directives about the education of small children. Many women have asked, "Such important things, why did you wait thirty years to say them? Why didn't you start on day one and say 'Hey, lady, there's so much more to do with your children.'"

The answer is interesting. When the Rebbe first assumed the leadership of Chabad, he was x number of years away from Mashiach's coming. As the years went by, his ruach hakodesh has revealed that we are much closer to the coming of Mashiach. The coming of Mashiach will span several eras. During the final era, HaShem tells us through His prophets that He will remove the spirit of impurity (tumah) from the earth. Life will be filled with kedushah. To pave the way for a life of more kedushah and less tumah, the Rebbe has instructed us and taught us to remove the tumah in small ways. By removing those treif animals, being more modest in dress and in behavior, using our Hebrew names instead of the English ones, teaching our children to say "Baruch HaShem," and so on, we add more kedushah and remove tumah. You had better get ready for a better world. You have to keep in touch with the Rebbe, listen carefully and know that every hora'ah is another step in getting the world ready for the days of Mashiach. These are just a few words to share with you on the night of the Rebbitzin's yahrzeit.

As I mentioned earlier, I had the zechus when I was a small child to see Rebbitzin Chanah. The Rebbitzen's house was on President Street. Walking from my house we went down President and up Kingston Avenue when we went to 770, and we passed her house every time. I will share with you a scene that I remember from my childhood. It was Shabbos morning in 770 in the women's section and we were davening. Suddenly a hush fell over the women and everyone turned towards the door. The door opened and Rebbitzin Chanah, then an elderly woman, entered the shul. As soon as she walked in, one of the important rebbitzins of the shul greeted her and escorted her to the corner of the women's section where she always sat. I remember her beautiful eyes and her special chair that was always spotlessly clean and covered with plastic, except when the Rebbitzin was in shul. No one else dared to touch or sit in that chair. When the Rebbitzin came in, it was placed in the mizrach (the east side, the special place reserved for important people) during the entire service. When the Rebbitzin finished davening, all of the women would come to wish her a "good Shabbos" and she in turn answered "good Shabbos." My most vivid memory of the Rebbitzin was her two seemingly contradictory characteristics, at once regal and at the same time totally humble and unpretentious. As she finished davening and greeting all the women in the shul, she moved towards the staircase, went down the three or four steps and left 770. The Rebbe knew exactly when to be at the door of 770 as his mother was leaving the women's shul. The Rebbe knew how much time it took her to get to that door. The Rebbe would open the front door of 770 -- the one that you all know so well, and stand at the door and look into his mother's eyes. The two of them would look at each other for a few seconds and then with a nod, the Rebbitzin would turn around and walk to the corner of Eastern Parkway. The Rebbe remained at the front entrance of 770 until he could no longer see his mother, and only then turn around and close the door and go back into 770.

Rebbitzin Chanah passed away on Shabbos, the 6th of Tishrei, 1964, in the late afternoon. She was 84 years old. At the time that she returned her pure soul to her Creator, her chair in the women's section inexplicably caught on fire.

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