Shavuos – The Essential Role of Women At Matan Torah

By Rabbi Binyomin Radner

Shavuos – The Essential Role of Women At Matan Torah 1

In Parshas Yisro 19:3 it is written, “And Moshe went up to Hashem, and Hashem said to him, “So shall you say to the house of Yaakov and tell the sons of Yisroel.’”

When the Jewish nation finally made it to Har Sinai, why is it that Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to discuss the Torah with the women first and only afterward with the men? This is a question that is discussed by many of the commentators:

Rashi says that Moshe was instructed to give the Torah over to Klal Yisroel in this order and with this terminology.

The Sifsai Chachomim explains that this terminology means that Moshe should speak to the women about Matan Torah first, and then to the men afterward about Matan Torah. That is why the pasuk says to the Bais Yaakov first and only then to the Bnai Yisroel. Moshe Rabbeinu was to consult with the women first and only afterward with the men.

Rashi then continues that the pasuk says to talk with the women (ko somar) first, and then to tell it (vesagaid) to the men. Rashi explains this to mean that Moshe should make sure it is said to the women in a soft, gentle tone e.g., telling them about the rewards and the like. After that, it should then be told to the men, e.g. the punishments and the like in a harsher tone to impress upon them the importance of keeping the Torah.

The Medrash Rabbah on Parshas Yisro 28:2, offers three answers to the question of why Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the women first and the men only afterward.

First, women are mizdarzos bemitzvos. They are quick, dutiful, and passionate about their performance of mitzvos. Therefore, they deserved to be first. The second reason given by the Medrash Rabbah is that women are responsible for leading their children in the proper path of the Torah. The Radal explains that this refers to the fact that small children are raised by their mothers, and the mothers are the ones who instill a passion for Torah in them. As the pasuk in Mishlai 1:8 says, “V’al titosh Toras imecha.” ‘Do not forsake the Torah teachings of your mother’. This is because it is the mother who teaches the child the basic foundation of Torah which is so essential that women deserved to be spoken to first

The third reason given by the Medrash Rabbah is that Hashem said, “When I created the world, I commanded only Adam Harishon to stay away from the eitz hadaas. Chava only heard it second hand from Adam. As a result, she caused him to sin and brought death to the world. To make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself, Moshe is told to go first and speak directly to the women so the Torah will last, and there won’t be a chance of the women hearing it second-hand.

Perhaps we could shed some light upon these cryptic words of the Medrash with the following: Pirkai Dirabi Eliazer Hagadol Chapter 41 relates:

On Erev Shabbos (the Torah was given on Shabbos), the Jewish people stood at Har Sinai, the men and women in separate groups. Hashem told Moshe to go and consult with the women first to see if they wanted to accept the Torah, as it is natural for men to follow the path of women.

The Medrash Rabbah on Parshas Beraishis 17:8 relates the following: There was once a story regarding a pious man who was married to a pious woman. They did not have children, so they decided to divorce so each could try their Mazel with a different spouse. The pious man married a wicked woman who subsequently turned him into a wicked man. The pious woman went and married a wicked man and subsequently turned him into a righteous man. We see from here that everything is from the wife. (hakol min ha’isha.)

The Maharzav explains this Medrash that a woman is able to influence and alter a man’s judgment and reasoning according to her own wishes and seduce him into acting based on her own desires.

Based on this Medrash, there are some Roshei Yeshiva who will encourage their talmidim to try and seek out a wife who is slightly more religious than they are, as opposed to less religious. This is because it is known that the man usually follows in the direction of his wife’s religious observance and not vice versa.

With these Medrashim, we can better understand why it is that Hashem wanted to make certain that the women would be on board with the Torah first before consulting the men. That is the only way the Torah would be strong and would last.

The Radal in his commentary on this Medrash cites the Gemara Brachos 17a which says, “With what do women earn a reward, considering that they do not learn Torah like men?” The Gemara answers,”By bringing their sons to cheder, by sending their husbands to the bais medrash, and then waiting for them to come back home from learning. The Gemara Sotah 21a also quotes this passage and adds that because these women enable and encourage the men to learn, they become partners and receive half of the reward for the men’s leaning.

Maharsha, Sotah 21a says that because a woman is more commonly found in the house than a man, that is why the women of Klal Yisroel are called Bais Yaakov. The pasuk hints that Moshe should speak to the women and tell them to tell their sons to learn. Because the woman is the akeres habayis she can influence her children in the ways of the Torah more than a man can. Additionally, he writes, “The Posuk says ko somar levais Yaakov vesagaid livnai Yisroel.”

Maharsha points out that the word vesagaid is written in lashon nekaiva, as opposed to veyagaid which would be lashon zachor. This alludes to the idea that Hashem was telling Moshe to speak to the women and let them know that they should tell, encourage, and help their sons to learn. In this way, the women will be essential to Matan Torah.

The following story is brought down in The Eishes Chayil Haggadah by Rabbi Dov Weller and quoted from the book Aim Haderech. : “At a Bris attended by a broad spectrum of Gedolim spanning both the Chassidic and Livish worlds, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, a great Torah leader who produced thousands of students, rose to speak.

‘Each of the Admorim and Roshei Yeshiva sitting here today,” he said, “undoubtedly feels that it was his father or rebbe, or other great rabbeim who were the most influential personages of the last century. Yet, I tell you that the most influential person of the last century of Jewish life never learned even one page of Gemara.”

The crowd was stunned. He then continued and explained that he was referring to Sara Schenirer, the mother of the Bais Yaakov movement. Referred to by her students as Sarah Imeinu, as she did not have children, and her students were her proverbial children who continued the Bais Yaakov movement. Without her, the Admorim would very likely not have any Chassidim, and the Roshei Yeshiva would not have any students. Rav Sarna was basing this on the aforementioned Chazals that it is the mothers who instill a love for Torah into their small children so that when the children grow older, they are able to learn from their rabbeim and to become talmidei chachomim.

Sara Schnirer is not the only woman whose life-work continues to change the very foundation of the world we live in long after her passing.

Reb Meir Shapiro, the chief Rabbi of Lublin and founder of the Daf Yomi program, is directly responsible for hundreds of thousands of Jews setting aside time each day to learn a daily portion of the Talmud. Because of the Daf Yomi, hundreds of thousands of Jews have learned through all of Shas. From where did Rav Shapiro draw his courage, strength, and love of Torah, spurring him to implement such a revolutionary idea in Torah learning?

In a personal letter, Rav Shapiro wrote in his sefer HaOhr HaMeir, “The wise words of my mother have escorted me throughout my life and serve as a candle before my footsteps until this day. It was when I was seven years old, and it was the day after Isru Chag Pesach. I came home in the morning and saw that my mother was worried about something. She was whispering to herself with tears in her eyes, “A day that has passed is a day that will never return. Who knows? The Torah is so big. Who knows?”

I went up to her and said, “Mama, is everything all right? Why are you crying and so worried?”

My mother told me that before Pesach, she had arranged for me to learn with a great rebbi from the town of Sochatchov. Yet, here it was, already two days after Pesach, and she had heard no word from him. “Do you know, my son,” she said, “each day that passes without Torah study is a day that is lost forever? What will be?”

My mother’s tefillos were answered, and that very day the rebbi arrived. My mother’s words, ‘Each day that passes without Torah study, is lost forever.” constantly resound in my mind. They drove me to create a program where each and every Jew will never have a day that passes without Torah study, and from this, the Daf Yomi program was born.”

Incredible to think that the mother of Rav Meir Shapiro is the one who is credited for the Daf Yomi program, for the hundreds of thousands of pages of Gemara that have been learned by Jews all over the world for a century. We could not imagine what would have happened on that day when Rav Shapiro saw his mother crying if it would have turned out that she was crying over a missing piece of jewelry, or over some expensive piece of china that broke, or over a nice rug that got dirty.

Although his mother did not learn Gemara, it was her emotion and strong passion for Torah that inspired Rav Meir Shapiro to launch and spearhead the Daf Yomi program.

Interestingly, it is brought down that the following question was posed to the Sar HaTorah HaRav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita. If a talmid chochom is married and has a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership, then Zevulun gets half of his reward, and his wife gets the other half. Will he be left with nothing for himself? R’ Chaim answered by referencing a quote from the Chida who writes that although one’s wife receives half of the reward for his learning, this does not detract from his reward. Rather, this 50% is an additional bonus granted by Heaven to one’s wife.

I heard a shiur from the world-famous Rabbi Eli Mansour Shlita that he had a similar discussion with his Rebbe Rabbi Baruch Be-Haim about the workings of a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership.

(There is a fifteen-page teshuva in the Igros Moshe on the details of a Yissachar Zevulun partnership, but to delve into the intricacies of how a Yissachar-Zevulun partnership operates is beyond the scope of this work.)

The Gemara Kesubos 62a tells of the great reward for women who enable their husbands to learn late at night at a time when most people have already retired for the night. Their extraordinary self-sacrifice earns them a tremendous and eternal reward in Olam Habaah.

Rabbeinu Bachyeh in Parsha Yisro explains this topic as follows: A righteous woman can impress upon her son the importance of frequenting the Bais Medrash as she is in the home. She can shower him with many forms of affection leading him in the path of Torah-study while he is yet in his formative years, in such a manner that when he grows older, he will not stray from the proper path. Thus, it is proper for a woman to daven at the time of Shabbos candle-lighting that He grant her children who will shine in Torah. Candle-lighting is an especially propitious time as tefillah can elicit a much more effective response when it is done together with a mitzvah. In the merit of Ner Shabbos, which is light, she will be rewarded with children who are great in Torah, which is also called light as the Pasuk in Mishlai says, “Ki ner mizvah veTorah ohr.”

This is a great segula, as the Gemara Shabbos 23b says that ‘One who is diligent with the mitzvah of ner, merits having sons who are Torah scholars.’

It is said over in the name of Reb Shach that the word Aim, mother, is derived from the word emunah. Meaning, the aim, mother, is the source from where children get their emunah. In the Ponoveszh Yeshiva, they learned about the importance of women’s tefillos in a very real way. The yeshiva is particularly crowded during Yomim Noraim. One year, the expected crowd was going to be too large for the bais medrash. It was suggested that since there was not enough room, perhaps they could open up the ezras nashim and use it for additional men’s seating. When they went to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shach, to ask his opinion he flatly refused. You may not take away the women’s section, he said. We need the tears and the tefillos of the nashim tzidkaniyos davening there and it is vital to keep the Ezras Nashim reserved for the women during Yomim Noraim.

The Gemara Kiddushin 49b tells that ten kavim of sicha i.e. measures of speech, came down to the world and that women took nine of them, while everyone else took one. The basic understanding of this is that women talk nine times more than men do.

But Reb Shimshon Pincus says that there is a much deeper meaning as well. He says that the word sicha, talking, can also refer to davening. This can be found in the Gemara Brachos 26b. There, we learn from the pasuk that Yitzchok went lasuach, to talk (sicha), in the field towards evening. This was the time that Yitzchok Avinu enacted the tefilla of mincha. This is gleaned from the pasuk’s terminology of lasuach/sicha because “Ein sicha ella tefillah”. In this instance, the word sicha refers to tefilla. The word sicha can refer to idle chatter, e.g., sichas chullin, but it is also used in reference to tefilla. So, if women took nine kavim of sicha, this can also mean that women took a greater portion of tefillah and are able to connect with Hashem through tefilla, including when it is an informal conversation. This alludes to the idea that because men are the ones who go to minyan, they typically only daven in a formal setting while they are in shul. Whereas with women, because they are not required to go to minyan, they daven to Hashem constantly and informally through all of their daily activities. This is the type of sicha in which women took nine measures of and men only took one measure of it.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his sefer Darash Moshe on Parshas Yisro discusses the question as well of why women were informed about Matan Torah before the men. It would seem that the men should have been told first since, after all, they are commanded in limud HaTorah and in all 613 Mitzvos. This is while women are not commanded in learning nor in any mitzvos which are bound by time,i.e mitzvos asei shehazeman grama e.g. Tefillin and Lulav. Reb Moshe answers that Torah was given at Har Sinai to last forever throughout all the generations. Hashem wanted to make an indelible impression at the once in world history event of Matan Torah. It would only be possible for the Torah to be transmitted through all the generations with proper chinuch of young children. Once people are older and set in their ways, it is much less likely for chinch to be effective then. It’s unusual for mature adults or even adolescents to begin to undertake the yoke of Torah and mitzvos at that stage. Reb Moshe says that the vital chinuch of young children can only be accomplished by mothers. This is because they are the ones who rear the children not only in the physical and material sense, but more importantly, in the spiritual sense as well.

Even though children are entrusted into the care of and taught Torah by rabbeim in yeshiva ketana, they are still under the influence of their mothers for the greater part of the day. Hence, mothers wield the greatest influence over the children even more than their rabbeim do. Therefore, Hashem reached out to the women first as it is only through them that Kabalas Hatorah would remain strong and everlasting throughout the generations. Only with the mothers infusing in the children the proper emunah in Hashem and instilling in them a passion (cheishek gadol) for Torah and mitzvos will they be able to go on to grow in Torah from their fathers and Rabbeim.

This was the case with Reb Meir Shapiro that he was inculcated with a passion for Torah and mitzvos by his mother and therefore was able to go on to achieve unprecedented heights in Torah scholarship to such an extent that the ramifications of his mother’s tears, her sicha, are still felt today.

The Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez, on Parshas Yisro brings an additional reason for why the women were informed of Matan Torah before the men. We know from Chazal that it was in the merit of righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Mitzrayim and thereafter made it to Har Sinai for Kabalas HaTorah. Hashem instructed Moshe to speak with the women first to show respect for their actions and to reward them for their righteousness in Mitzrayaim.

Medrash Yalkut Shimoni on Rus:606 says that not only was it in the merit of righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt, but that the geula from our current galus will also come in the merit of righteous women.

Bem’haira yavo!

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