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How Women Can Change The World

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Last week I shared a letter from a troubled and confused young woman. She had become a ba’alas teshuvah after marriage. Her husband, however, has not changed his secular ways and thinking. The following is my response.

My dear friend,

No matter how painful or challenging one’s problem may be, if there is clarity – if one knows the direction one must follow – it becomes somewhat easier. But to be lost and have to decide on the path to follow is maddening. One day you think “divorce,” the next day “stay married.” No matter what, you are always second guessing yourself.

Fifty years ago I had the merit of establishing Hineni. We were pioneers. It was to be expected that secular Jews were afraid of me, but the Orthodox community was skeptical for its own reasons. “Rebbetzin,” I constantly heard, “you’re wasting your time; even if you get these people to be shomrei mitzvos, in the blink of an eye they will return to their old ways.”

The cynics were wrong. Not only did the vast majority of those “returnees” remain committed, many became leaders in the Jewish community and inspired an entire generation.

This awesome miracle of Jews returning to their roots has, however, also brought about some painful ramifications. Sons and daughters from secular homes who become observant very often evoke the ire of their parents, and parents who become observant experience resentment from their grown secular children. Then there are those who suffer through the crisis with which you are struggling – one spouse embracing our faith, the other rejecting it.

I mention this so that you will know your problem is neither new nor unique. There are others who have walked in your path and in the end succeeded. To be sure, not every story has a happy ending. But if you know what your priorities must be and you do not compromise yourself, you will always have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you did what is right.

The big question that confronts you now is “What do I do?” In our daily morning prayers we beseech G-d to grant us the wisdom to choose between right and wrong. I have counseled many people regarding this challenge. Those who have read my articles and heard my speeches can testify that my advice is always rooted in our Torah values.

Cling tenaciously to our Torah and mitzvos. Be a role model to your children. Shield them from hearing nasty words between you and your husband. Don’t fight with him; instead try love and kindness.

Should your children ask you why daddy is not observing the mitzvos, tell them with loving candor, “Your daddy is a wonderful man but he never had an opportunity to study our Torah.” Make a beautiful Shabbos table and invite your husband to join you – but should he refuse, don’t fight and destroy the sanctity of the day. If necessary, you make Kiddush; you sing zemiros; you tell a d’var Torah or ask your children to do so. If you husband should violate the commandments, do not make a scene. It can only make the situation worse and ignite a fire that will be difficult to put out.

You wrote in your letter that you found a warm, loving synagogue in your community. Why not consult the rabbi and ask him to visit you, befriend your husband and invite him to study?

Should your husband, G-d forbid, remain obstinate, that still doesn’t necessarily mean you should divorce him. Divorce comes with its own problems and creates havoc in the family (unless circumstances leave you no option, and that should be determined by you and a professional). Be patient – if he’s a good man, with kindness in his heart, in time he will understand. May Hashem help and may your husband respond to your call, to the call of your children and above all to the call of his Heavenly Father.

You have assets – energies you may not even be aware of – that if harnessed properly can ameliorate your dilemma. You are a woman and as such you were created by G-d with special qualities. G-d charged you to be an ezer k’negedo – a “helpmate for him.” The literal translation of k’negedo means “against him.” At first glance that is somewhat paradoxical. Can someone be against and yet be a helper? Isn’t that contradictory? But therein is the secret of a woman. Yes, be his helper – but when necessary that help must be directed against him so that he turns to the right path.

How do you do this? Rely on the “Torah GPS” and it will direct you. Consider Deborah the Prophetess. She was called Devorah Aishes Lapidot – Deborah the wife of candles [light]. Devorah’s husband was a fine man but he was not a Torah scholar. So what did she do? Did she berate him? Did she fight with him? Did she demand that he study? She did none of that. She summoned all the energy G-d endowed her with and put it to use.

Instead of pushing him to go to a class, she devised a plan. She fashioned special candles for the Tabernacle and asked her husband to deliver them to the high priest. At the same time she approached the high priest and asked him to welcome her husband with open arms and invite him to study Torah. And so it was that she directed him on the right path and he didn’t even know it. Her husband became a scholar and she was immortalized for all time. Her name became “Aishes Lapidot” – the wife of candles that illuminated not only the Tabernacle but the heart of her husband as well.

Can we apply her teaching today? Of course. If you search the pages of our Torah you will discover that Devorah was not a lone example. Our righteous Matriarchs also directed their husbands, the saintly giants, our Patriarchs.

The wisest of all men, King Solomon, summed it all up: “The wise woman builds her house but the foolish woman destroys it.” Tragically, women today are not aware that they have the power to bring blessings to their families and, through those blessings, change the world.

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