Gimmel Cheshvan, 5777
Torah Education for Women
Devora Leah was the aunt of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, known as the Alter Rebbe. Her mother, Rachel, was a very unusual woman for her time.
Educated secretly by her unconventional father, Rachel eventually mastered not only Chumash, but the Talmud and the writings of Maimonides, and was especially expert in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law.
Her erudition in Jewish legal matters is illustrated by an incident in which her husband and father were walking on Shabbos.
Suddenly, someone came running to tell them that the city's eiruv had broken.
The two rabbis stood still, unable to remember the law under such circumstances. Rachel's father asked her what they should do.
At first she didn't want to reply, since it was frowned upon in those days for a woman to be learned and she didn't want to alienate her new husband.
But when her father pressed her, she answered and everyone abided by her instructions.
Upon returning home they consulted the Shulchan Aruch and verified that Rachel's pronouncement had been correct. When Rachel had her own daughter, it was only natural that she educate her in the same manner in which she had learned from her father.
Rachel began teaching Devora Leah regularly and systematically.
In the course of time, Devora Leah also became quite a scholar.
She grew up with the wonderful qualities so exemplified by her mother: fond of her fellow-beings, always interested in her neighbors, ready to help everyone. Her brother, Baruch, on the other hand, was cold and reserved, preferring his own company to that of others.
Because of Baruch's cold nature, there was no bond between the two siblings. Devora Leah was grieved at her brother's attitude. Her mother saw it and realized it was wrong, but it was beyond her comprehension. She was pained by Baruch's behavior and thought it might do him good to hear something of the family history that she had already told Devora Leah. But he seemed so unapproachable that she kept putting it off. Unfortunately, Rachel waited too long. She became gravely ill and passed away.
At the time of the death of her beloved mother Devora Leah was only sixteen years old. She found some consolation for her loss by immersing herself in the care of her father, brother and household.
Not long after the passing of her mother, Devora Leah's father succumbed to his emotional travail, and after a protracted illness, he too passed away.
Devora Leah, now an orphan, went to live with her aunt and uncle.
Her brother Baruch disappeared without telling anyone of his destination.
One day, Devora Leah's aunt and uncle announced that they had located a suitable match for her -- a young Torah scholar named Yosef Yitzchak.
The young girl immediately ran to the graves of her parents and poured out her heart, asking for their blessings only if the match was one which would be successful. Afterward, she agreed to meet the young man.
Devora Leah was very frank with him, explaining that she was inclined to follow the ways of her mother's family, who followed the teaching of Kabbalah and Chassidus. The young man listened attentively, and then, to Devora Leah's happy surprise, he told her that he had long ago made the acquaintance of a certain disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and was thoroughly knowledgeable with his teachings. In fact, he was entirely in sympathy with the Baal Shem Tov's path of Divine service.
Even more astonishing, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak told her that he had himself met the Baal Shem Tov.
The tzadik had told him that he would meet his intended in Vitebsk -- an orphan girl from a fine family.
Devora Leah was thrilled with all he told her and saw Divine Providence in their meeting. She had no doubt that this fine young man was her Divinely-chosen mate.
The two went together to Devora Leah's parents' graves and secretly agreed to marry on the following conditions: Yosef Yitzchak was to learn Torah with her two or three times a week; He was not to object to her continuing with her sewing and allow her to contribute monetarily to their household; They were to share equally in all they did relating to Torah and mitzvos; They were to keep the fact that she was studying Torah a secret; They were to live as followers of the Baal Shem Tov; From all their earnings they would put aside a tenth part for charity; They were raise their children in the Chassidish way; If they had daughters they would teach them Torah.
After their marriage, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was appointed as head of the Vitebsk Yeshiva, and Devora Leah was very happy with the life she and her husband had undertaken.
Adapted and excerpted from Memoirs of the Frierdiker Rebbe
Taken from L'Chaim 352 with permission.