[Riga]1

[1.]

In two contexts, both relating to the Jewish people as a whole, the Torah mentions the womenfolk before the men. At the Giving of the Torah, G‑d tells Moshe Rabbeinu, “Thus shall you say to the House of Yaakov The House of Yaakov: Ex. 19:3. and relate to the Children of Israel,” and the Mechilta explains that “the House of Yaakov” refers to the women. Likewise, from the Torah’s description of how the men and women2 brought their contributions for the building of the Mishkan in the wilderness, Ramban understands that the women preceded the men.

[2.]

In the [second] blessing that is recitedat the Reading of the Torah we thank G‑d Who gave us the Torah of truth and planted worldly life3 within us. This means that the truth of the Torah lies in the guidance it gives for fine and proper conduct in one’s worldly life — between man and G‑d, between man and man, and in one’s family life.

Every single word in the Torah, and even the sequence within every narrative, lends us an understanding of how the life of a Jewish home should be conducted. For example, consider the following.

On two occasions G‑d introduces a command to Moshe Rabbeinu with the phrase, “Thus shall you say....” The first is before4 the Giving of the Torah, the second is after;5 the first relates to men and women, the second mentions men only.

The Giving of the Torah was not a one-time event; it is an ongoing occurrence. Accordingly, the above-quoted blessing concludes by addressing Him6 “Who gives the Torah.” In the life of a Jewish family, the Giving of the Torah signifies giving one’s children a Torah education. This means enrolling one’s sons in a G‑d-fearing cheder under the strict supervision and guidance of pious teachers, and likewise having one’s daughters brought up under the guidance and supervision of women who are pious and goodhearted.

Before the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, G‑d told Moshe Rabbeinu, “Thus shall you say to the House of Yaakov and relate to the Children of Israel,” mentioning the women before the men. From this we learn that before the ongoing Giving of the Torah, that is, before the time comes to give a Torah education to boys and girls, one should speak to their mothers.

Mothers: In your hands lie the fortunes of your children, because their future, for better or (G‑d forbid) otherwise, depends on their upbringing. And that grave responsibility is yours. Their fortunes and your own depend on the schooling you choose for them. Remember, then, G‑d’s words to you at Sinai, and fulfill your obligations to your children with the most earnest attention.

After the Giving of the Torah, G‑d’s command is addressed to the Children of Israel, to the menfolk. When the children come home, the obligation to keep track of their studies and examine them is the father’s.

These, then, are the lessons we learn from the Torah’s narrative of the Giving of the Torah.

[3.]

The second occasion on which women are mentioned before men is the Torah’s account of how the people contributed valuables and building materials for the Mishkan, the Sanctuaryin the wilderness, and its furnishings.

One should keep in mind that the Holy Temple7 is not a temporary, one-time edifice. Rather, every Jewish home builds a Beis HaMikdash, in fulfillment of the command, “And they shall build Me a Sanctuary8 and I shall dwell among them.”

In the wilderness, when G‑d desired to bestow upon our people the greatest gift possible, the construction of a Sanctuary for His Name, even though “the silver is Mine9 and the gold is Mine” He asked them to contribute the necessary materials. And the first to respond were the women, who brought four kinds of gold jewelry. As understood by Ibn Ezra, these comprised rings worn on the ears, nose and fingers, and bracelets.

Only a husband and a wife together can transform the life of their family into a Beis HaMikdash, but it is the woman who must take the first step. She must make a spiritual contribution of four kinds of jewelry towards their children’s education, for it is this that will turn their home into a Sanctuary for Torah and mitzvos, a place in which G‑d’s Name will abide and which He will bless with happiness.

Contributing one’s earrings signifies listening attentively to the directives of the Torah and its sages on how to bring up children and how to conduct a Jewish home. It also signifies listening attentively to how one’s sons and daughters speak among themselves and with their respective friends. Since the tone of their speech normally echoes what they hear from their parents at home, the parents’ speech needs to set an example of respect and refinement.

The second kind of jewelry, noserings, suggests the sense of smell. A mother needs to be sensitive to the question of which boys and girls her children come in contact with and exchange home visits with, and she needs to monitor these contacts.

The third kind, rings worn on the finger, suggests that building a Sanctuary at home needs something more than the two previous kinds of jewelry. One also needs to point the way. One needs to explain the child the consequences of obedience and proper conduct and (G‑d forbid) of disobedience and improper conduct.

The fourth kind of jewelry mentioned is the bracelet. Children should be brought up with a firm hand, not only when they are disobedient, but also when they are obedient, in order to arouse a lively interest in tackling their studies conscientiously.

I am certain that all or almost all of those present would like to see their children growing up with not only physical but also spiritual health, as observers of the Torah and its mitzvos. Mothers and fathers must know, however, that merely wanting is not enough: one must take such action as will turn that desire into a practical reality.

If so, give your children the fine and wholesome upbringing of yesteryear. Enrol your sons in devout chadarim and in yeshivos in which Torah is studied in a G‑d-fearing spirit, and entrust your daughters to the hands of devout educators. Your children will then grow up observing Torah and mitzvos. Dedicate your spiritual jewelry and build a Beis HaMikdash, and then you will be “blessed with a generation10 of upright offspring,” with children who will bring you material and spiritual nachas, joyful contentment.

As understood by Rashi, the word used for the fourth kind of jewelry does not signify a bracelet. Rather, it may be understood as an allusion to the laws of family purity, a mitzvah which has been entrusted to women. I am certain that there is no need to speak of taharas hamishpachah to those who are present here. However, one’s own proper observance of the mitzvah is not enough. Beyond this, with tact and refinement, one should go to the trouble of explaining its importance to one’s acquaintances; out of goodhearted friendliness, one should encourage them to observe it, and this will no doubt bring happiness into their homes.

May G‑d grant that you and your husbands, in happiness and in health and in prosperity, bring up your children to the study of the Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to the practice of good deeds,11 and that you derive nachas from them. As to those of you who have not yet been blessed with children, may G‑d gladden your hearts and the hearts of your husbands with children blessed with long years of Jewish life.