Over the past five months, women have been meeting daily to study the entire Hemshech Ranat of the Rebbe Rashab under the guidance of Mrs. Yitty Gniwisch and Rabbi Reuven Leigh. They just celebrated their first graduation.
“This was by far the most challenging learning commitment I have ever made, but also the most fulfilling.” That’s how Chana Colin, mother of three and a new shlucha to Towson, MD, summed up her experience at the graduation ceremony for Batsheva Learning Center’s new online women’s Beis Midrash.
Over the past five months, Chana and her peers have been meeting daily to study the entire Hemshech Ranat of the Rebbe Rashab. They spent the majority of their class time on chavrusa learning, led by Mrs. Yitty Gniwisch and participated in a weekly shiur taught by Rabbi Reuven Leigh.
While the time commitment — one hour and half a day, four days a week, for five months — was daunting for a woman at Chana’s stage of life, she attributes the powerful impact of the program to the consistency of the learning. “While the timing was challenging for me, the daily seder was so important to integrating the concepts into my daily life,” Chana said. “With the day-to-day endless tasks of taking care of a family…it’s so easy to get lost in the daily grind…Ranat has pushed me to view everything and everyone in this physical world as G-dly. I feel that my seemingly mundane tasks are infused with purpose and direction, more than I ever felt before.”
The online Beis Midrash is in its first year and offers a unique learning experience that has never been formally offered to women before. For most of the students, it is their first time learning a complete hemshech. In addition to giving the students a thorough knowledge of this foundational text, it gave them the skills to learn any text of Chassidus on their own.
As Chaya Sherman, another graduate of the program put it in her own speech at the ceremony, “I gained more than just the content of the maamar. I feel equipped with tools I didn’t have before. It’s a comfort with the text and the fact that it feels normal to read through a Hebrew text and understand it.”
Mrs. Yitty Gniwisch, curriculum writer and instructor at the Beis Midrash, addressed the graduates at the event and shared the long-term impact she envisions this mastery of skills will have on the students. “The ability to learn Chassidus in depth, to learn a hemshech, is going to enrich your Yiddishkeit throughout your life. It will change the way you parent your kids and how they parent their kids…… It’s life-changing and the impact continues for generations.”
More than the concepts explored in the hemshech and the skills for learning maamarim, many students felt that the most powerful thing they gained from the program was a shift in their own self-image. “Learning this hemshech… helped me tap into a part of being a Chabad chossid that I never encountered before.” said Chani Mochkin in her graduation speech. Another student, Batya Lieberman, shared, “For me, what really changed my relationship to learning was that every time I went somewhere, I had to think ‘Do I have my sefer with me?’ The fact that I carry a sefer with me wherever I go and I use it every day really changed how I see my learning.”
Mrs. Yitty Gniwisch echoed this sentiment in her speech as well. “One student mentioned to me, ‘The other day I was just sitting on the subway and casually learning the maamar’. To me, that really encapsulates what you’ll all gain from this program – a change in your own self-concept relative to learning. It’s possible for some women to feel that pulling a maamar off the shelf and learning it is not something they see themselves doing. Hopefully, what you’ve gained here, is that you can take out a maamar and learn it and understand it. It’s something accessible to you, something you can envision yourself doing.”
The students and staff at the program see this milestone as more than just a step in their personal growth and development, but part of a historic movement. “Being part of women’s in-depth learning of Chassidus, I don’t feel like we’re ‘catching up’ or following in someone else’s footsteps.” said Chaya Sherman, “I really feel like we’re paving the way and creating a new path. We’re bringing something to the table that no one else can because we’re women. I’m really proud and grateful to be a part of that.”
Rabbi Reuven Leigh, who gave weekly shiurim on the hemshech, concluded the graduation ceremony by emphasizing the fact that this program is actualizing the Rebbe’s vision for women’s learning in our generation. He paraphrased a sicha in which the Rebbe said, “this new ‘minhag yisrael Torah hi’ that women are also learning Torah, which wasn’t so common in earlier generations, is something that doesn’t stand still. It’s a continuous process that happens midor l’dor umiyom l’yom. We can’t rely on the model of women learning that was achieved five years ago, ten years ago, fifty years ago. What Batsheva Learning Center is doing is a phenomenal next phase in the tekufa of advancing women’s learning. There will always be naysayers on the sidelines saying ‘ This is not what was done. This is not what my mother did, what my grandmother did.’ But the Rebbe wants there to be a continuous revolution and development of women’s learning, to the point where, indeed, people can say that we didn’t do this in previous generations.”
He concluded with a prediction for how he sees the Rebbe’s vision unfolding in future years. “I like to think that this small group of us who worked together on Hemshech Ranat will be able to look forward in five, ten years from now and see the flourishing of women’s learning. There will be such an abundance of lomdos Chassidus, (be it Hemshech Ranat, Samech Vov, Ayin Beis) this will be the normal lifestyle of Lubavitcher women, that the hemshechim of the Rebbe Rashab and, of course, all of Chassidus Chabad, will be at their fingertips.”
Though the formalization of this type of learning for women may be new, women being involved in the in-depth study of Torah and Chassidus has deep roots. The Frierdiker Rebbe, in his zichronos, writes about learned women in the Alter Rebbe’s family; in more recent generations, starting with the Achos Hatemimim movement, this practice has become more and more widespread. Throughout the Rebbe’s leadership, the Rebbe pushed for women’s Torah learning to be made accessible to all women on the highest level possible.
Rabbi Asher Farkash illustrates this in an endorsement for Batsheva Learning Center’s Beis Midrash by recounting a conversation his mother had in her first yechidus with the Rebbe.
During that yechidus, the Rebbe encouraged her to advocate for Jewish women and girls to get involved in the study of Chassidus. “The Rebbe explained at length that women are obligated to study the laws that are relevant to them and that they have six constant mitzvos of emunas Hashem, achdus Hashem, ahavas v’yiras Hashem, etc. all of which women are obligated in justas men. It is only possible to fulfill those mitzvos through the serious study of chassidus. From then on, my mother publicized this yechidus wherever she could.” R. Farkash also referenced a sicha from 1990 in which, “the Rebbe removed practically all limitations on the study of Torah for women in our generation, not only in the study of Chassidus but also in the study of niglah.I want to encourage the righteous women involved in this program of studying Torah as the Rebbe instructed us. Chabad women and girls everywhere should see and do the same. There is no doubt that this will bring great nachas to the Rebbe.”
Click HERE for a live recording of the graduation ceremony.
Registration for next year’s online Chassidus track is now open.
Click HERE to read more info and to register.