Women and Children First by Kenny Banner



    In this week's Parsha, Hashem, in introducing the details concerning the giving of the Torah, says to Moshe "כה תאמר לבית יעקב ותגיד לבני ישראל", "So shall you say to the house of Yaakov, and tell to Bnai Yisrael" (שמות י"ט:ג').  Rashi (שם בד"ה לבית ובד"ה ותגיד), quoting from Chazal, says that "בית יעקב" refers to the women while "בני ישראל" alludes to the men.  If so, it seems that Moshe was told by Hashem to give the Torah to the women first, and only afterwards to the men.  This is very strange.  Since it is the men who have the Mitzvah of studying the Torah and are responsible for mastering its many detailed provisions and then teaching them to all the people, including the women, they should have been taught the Torah first.  Why, then, did Hashem tell Moshe to give the Torah first to the women?
    According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, there is a specific reason why Hashem made this decision.  Hashem gave the Torah only once - at Har Sinai - and it was His intention that the Torah He gave at that time be passed on to all future generations.  But the Torah can be perpetuated in this way only if each individual and each family takes on the responsibility of transmitting the Torah to their offspring, so that they in turn will keep the Mitzvos and pass them on to their offspring after them.
    Clearly, this can be done only if Torah education is started in earliest childhood, when an individual's mind and heart are most receptive; when he grows up, his mind-set becomes fixed and it is much more difficult, if not impossible,to instill such a fundamental and pervasive value system as the Torah provides.  The Gemara in Bava Basra (דף כ"א:) relates that it was customary at one time for the boys to start studying Torah only at the age of sixteen or seventeen, at the time when the slightest setback was enough to make them reject their teachers and leave the way of Torah altogether.  Only later was the situation rectified, and Torah study was imposed on students at a younger age.
    In order, therefore, to ensure that the Torah will be preserved in perpetuity, we must begin to train our children from their earliest childhood, so that the observance of Torah and Mitzvos will not seem like a burden to them as they grow up.  This can be done best by mothers, who care for the physical needs of the children and are thus in the best position to begin the process of their spiritual training at the same time.
    Now we can understand why Hashem told Moshe to give the Torah to the women first, since they are the first to have the influence on the future generations, without whom the Torah cannot survive.  Only after the children have had the fundamentals of faith in Hashem and the desire to learn Torah and perform Mitzvos instilled in them by their mothers are they ready to learn the ways of the Torah and Mussar from their fathers and teachers, who in turn prepare them to learn from the great Roshei Yeshivos and Tzaddikim of their generation.  In this way, they too will learn to properly educate their children in the way of Torah and Mitzvos, so that the Torah will be preserved throughout all the generations.

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