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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Be a Chassidic Feminist!

Shalom, wonderful listeners and readers!

On this week's Eyshet Chayil Show, we talked about all sorts of interesting things, including this week's Torah portion, and the Jewish guidelines for nighttime.

With only an hour a week, we can't always cover ALL the great stuff that's going on in the world, on the internet, or in Malkah's whirling little mind. So here are two articles, from TOTALLY different sources, that will be your supplement!

The first is from www.jewishwoman.org, a subsidiary of Chabad.org. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Chassidic Feminist
By Rivkah Slonim

I would describe myself as a Chassidic feminist. The two terms are not mutually exclusive, though their combination is not without tension. Primarily, I am a Chassid, and my identity is wrapped up in that word.
I was born into a Chabad-Lubavitch family that never questioned the intellect or ability of a woman. I grew up surrounded by female role-models of strength, character and intelligence.

This was rooted to a large extent in our Chassidic background. The Chassidic approach to Judaism--and especially the Chabad-Chassidic approach -- brought a certain equality and an enhanced status to women in Jewish life, which increased further over the generations as women took on a larger, more prominent role.My femininity was more than just the way I was...

The women in my family were a force to be reckoned with, and as I soon learned, never to be underestimated.
As I was growing up, there was nothing I felt was beyond my reach, except perhaps shul life as enjoyed by the men. This often seemed unfair, but there was an understanding that this was just the way it was.
As I grew older, I realized that I enjoyed being female. My femininity was more than just the way I was; it was a unique part of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to express myself.

Yes, there were things I wished I could do. But I lived in a world of absolutes, the Torah world. I loved that world and I knew it to be true. If in a world of absolutes there were certain things a woman didn't do... I just wouldn't do them even if I wanted to.

They never loomed all-important. The joy and potential for fulfillment in the Chassidic-Jewish lifestyle, coming from knowing who you are and having a sense of direction and purpose in life, was far more significant.

I am still somewhat bothered by issues which, in this pre-Redemption era, have yet to be resolved. I am still drawn to some feminist polemics and compelled by certain arguments. But I know that after all of the arguments, refutations and debate, something must speak to the soul.

From somewhere there must come the ability to look beyond the individual issues to the totality that is Judaism. For me that has been the teachings of Chassidut.

Whenever I feel a tug, I ask myself some simple existential questions. Why am I here? Chassidut answers: to transform this world into a dwelling place for G-d, a place of spirituality and sanctity. Mitzvot in accordance with Halachah, Torah law, are our only tools for doing this.

An explanation of Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, has been particularly meaningful to me. Song of Songs speaks of a love between woman and man; it is a metaphor for the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people.

The literature is graphic and overwhelmingly physical; it resonates heat and passion. Here is the vivid joining of man and woman, a physical meshing and weaving of their bodies -- sexuality as the nexus of body and soul.
For G-d/Jew relationship is not meant to be platonic. It calls for nothing less than a coupling of body and soul: action.

A mitzvah is spirituality realized with and within the physical realm; it is the only way for a human to draw on the Divine. On this level, unity and oneness cannot be achieved through even the most sincere emotions or most passionate exclamations. There must be action.For if I wish to be in a relationship with G-d, I must make room for G-d within me...

Taking the male/female metaphor a step further, we know that conception occurs when one, the woman, accepts the other into her self. In their oneness, in their transcendence of self, the two potentially create a third, new, reality.

As Jews we need to create this opening within ourselves. In our relationship with G-d, we all -- both men and women -- must strive to purge ourselves of the overriding ego and, in its stead, create a space to accept and embrace G-d in a spirit of receptivity.

When we transcend the self and allow for fusion with G-d, on His terms, only then is there the possibility of "progeny," of eternity, in our relationship.

Relating this thought to myself, I cannot allow anything -- the winds of society, the most finely tuned arguments, my own desires -- to come between me and the performance of that action: mitzvot according to Halachah.

And if there is within me what Steinsaltz calls the strife of the spirit, it is mine to grapple with.
For if I wish to be in a relationship with G-d and tap into eternity, I must make room for G-d within me, even if it means negating the "I" that stands in the way.

There is an image that comes to my mind:
On a Friday morning some months ago, I walked into my grandparents' kitchen and witnessed a scene which to them was just life, but for me was a revelation.

My grandfather was in one corner of the room putting on his tefillin. My grandmother was in the other, separating a portion of the challah dough (which my grandfather had kneaded for her so that she could fulfill the special mitzvah). He was reciting the Shema, she the appropriate blessing for separating "challah."
Both were praying with equal fervor. Both were in communication with their G-d, with no thought of their "roles." They were joined with the Divine, in a place above distinctions.

Although at the core my life and my grandmother's lives reflect the same values, there is a major difference.The feminist movement has helped society catch up to the Chasidic world.

My grandmother grew up in an age when a woman's role was unquestioned, when life was much simpler, and whatever choices existed were based on necessity, not personal options. I, on the other hand, am immersed every day in the chaotic, constantly changing world of the near-21st century.

My grandmother has strength and purity; her vision is pristine and untainted. She has what one would call clarity, while I have tensions. My vision is often obscured by my ego. I too can feel and sense what she does, but not intuitively.

My intellect has to become involved to a much greater extent, and I have to find my inspiration and strength in a deeper understanding of Torah. I must study to know what she knows in her gut.

The Chassidic lens gives me a perspective of the world in which we live, and the changes which take place within it. Jewish mysticism explains that with the advent of Moshiach, the feminine powers in this world will become predominant. The Schechinah (feminine dimension of the Divine) will be manifest, and the feminine attributes will be the primary conduits for G-dliness in this world. It seems to me that the women's movement as we know it actually reflects this spiritual reality.

I feel grateful to the feminist movement for the positive changes it has brought for women. It has brought opportunity, equitable pay and respect to the female half of society. My perception is that the feminist movement has helped society catch up to the Chasidic world.

Today, we see a feminism more grounded in the female self. We see a new generation recognizing the joy and fulfillment in motherhood. There is a dawning that we women are different, biologically, psychologically, intellectually, spiritually and in every other way.

There has yet to come the knowledge that we need not diminish that unique identity in any way in our quest for recognition and respect.

That's some deep stuff!!

Next, let's flex our "Chassidic Feminism", by becoming better and more efficient at the things we do - from www.realsimple.com:

31 Ideas for 31 Days
(I've removed some that I thought were irrelevant for our purposes)

1. Write a bona fide letter to someone who won’t expect it. Think of a person who really matters to you and recount one of your most hilarious moments together, thank her for guiding you through a difficult time, or just tell her that you want to get together more often.
2. Enlist everyone in the house, including the kids, to speed-clean one drawer. Set up a box for donations and another for trash.
3. Empty your e-mail in-box. Delete and file. If your entire in-box is too overwhelming to tackle, focus on one day or one week of e-mails first.
4. Take digital photos of all the valuables in one room for insurance purposes. Keep the photos in a folder with original receipts or estimated values and serial numbers or warranties.
5. Toss all the liquor bottles in your bar that are less than one-eighth full (like that 1989 crème de menthe). If there’s more than a cocktail’s worth, try out a new drink, such as a stinger or an Amaretto sour. (many of these things should be tossed before Passover, anyway)
6. Try one new food.
7. Donate to your favorite charity. There are so many great charities in Israel - there's also Israel National Radio (donate@israelnationalradio.com).
8. Send a year’s worth of blooms to yourself (or a loved one) through a floral site like http://www.calyxandcorolla.com/calyx.storefront/45897612000b4773271c0a00141505ca/Catalog/1008, where you can order cut flowers or plants delivered monthly (cost: about $30 to $50 a month). Of course, if you want to REALLY love yourself, send yourself roses from Israel - www.israelrose.com.
9. Buy a few lint rollers and hang one near every entrance to the house. No more frantic searching for the defuzzer at the last minute or getting caught in a meeting with Rover’s yellow hair all over your black dress. 10. Schedule a day off from work.
11. Program five essential numbers into your cell phone, like your doctor and your favorite take-out place, to avoid searching in address books and phone books for the same numbers again and again.
12. Swap music. Switch MP3 players with your spouse, child, or friend and listen to his or her favorite playlist. You’ll discover new artists, and you just might learn something about the person you swapped with. (Your macho husband likes ’N Sync?)
13. Clean your sink. Really clean it. First rinse it with very hot water. Then use a nonabrasive all-purpose cleanser (such as Bon Ami) to avoid scratching. “Gently and briskly rub with a damp sponge or cloth,” says Brian Sansoni, vice president of communication for the Soap and Detergent Association. Rinse and dry with a clean towel, then pour baking soda down the drain to reduce odors.
14. Make your own trail mix by combining the last bits of cereal, raisins, and nuts stashed in the rear of the cupboard. Try leftover Cheerios, pretzel pieces (including the salt at the bottom of the bag), almonds, and chocolate chips.
15. Create your own “Best of 2006” tally. With all those must-see, -read, and -hear lists popping up at the end of the year, it can be hard to keep track of what you wanted to check out.
16. Clear all expired food from the refrigerator.
17. Create a list of parties you think would be fun to throw this year. Then later you can pick one and make it happen. Come up with a fun theme, such as winter carnival, where couples or kids compete for the best snowman and play tug-of-war and snow soccer.
18. Restack nesting bowls and Tupperware. Match lids with bottoms and toss oddball items.
19. Make a short wish list of satisfying — and easily doable — “fun” resolutions for the coming year. Include things like visiting a museum you keep meaning to get to, saving for an overseas vacation, or making that Hot Chocolate Cake you saw in Real Simple.
20. Pare down cooking utensils and gadgets. Remove everything you don’t use regularly (the potato masher) so you don’t waste time hunting for the things that you do use every day (measuring spoons). Put the extra items in a different drawer, or in a clear bin in the pantry or under the sink.
21. Replace years-old pictures in frames (so long, bad highlights) with new ones (hello, fabulous bob).
22. Memorize a short poem (or an expression from Ethics of Our Fathers!).
24. Flip through the holiday cards you received. You were harried enough just opening the mail through the season. Take 15 minutes to reread Uncle Dan’s family letter and marvel (again) at how much little Will has grown in just one year.
25. Put a few sturdy glasses in the freezer and store them there. Frosty mugs make iced tea, root beer, lager — even water with lemon — taste better.
26. Check the oil in your car.
27. Tighten those loose screws. Take your 15 minutes and walk through the house with a screwdriver. Tighten cabinets, door pulls — anything that has a screw loose. (No, not your husband.)
28. Cut up fruit and freeze it for smoothies. It’s the perfect use for produce that is almost past its prime.
29. Remove the wax from your candle holders and change the candles.
30. Jot down 15 places you’d like to visit in the next 15 years. Whether it’s the Swiss Alps or the Southwest’s Monument Valley, when you’re planning your next vacation, you can pull out your list and get reinspired. (I hope most of those places will be in the Land of Israel!)
31. Grab a power nap. “Even 5 or 10 minutes can make a difference,” says Chris Drake, a senior scientist at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders and Research Center, in Detroit.


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