Where in our history, do we see ‘Ladies First’?
Prior to the giving of the Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Utterances, known as ‘The Ten Commandments’, Moshe was told to deliver specific directives to prepare for this monumental event. It was an experience that would not only transform the participants, but would shape world history and the lives of all mankind. The instructions began: “So shall you say to Beis Yaakov, the house of Jacob, and relate to Bnei Yisrael, the children of Israel.” Beis Yaakov, refers to the women, while Bnei Yisrael refers to the men. Why are the women mentioned first?
During the time when man was created, Adam was instructed regarding the prohibition of eating the forbidden fruit. Chava, the first woman, was informed afterwards about the restriction. The episode that unfolded had catastrophic results. In preparation for the giving of the Torah at Sinai, seeking to avoid any mishap, the women were addressed before the men. Additionally, women have a zeal for Mitzvos. When it comes to belief in Hashem, they are the anchor and fortress of faith. Thus, they were rallied and called forth first when it came to receiving the Torah.
Another reason given in the Midrash is that the women are the ones who bring their children to learn Torah. A woman, of loving and warm demeanor, can encourage her children to study. Also, as Rabenu Bachaye adds, her presence at home allows for her influence. Identifying the woman as the ‘house’ of Yaakov is thereby fitting. The role of the Jewish woman in the home is vital towards leading the children of Israel to study and embrace Torah.
In Mishlei it states, “Listen, my son, to the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother.” Rav Meir Shapiro noted that the child is directed to listen to his father. Regarding the mother, there is no instruction to listen. Why? Because the teaching of the father comes in the form of a specific lesson. The influence of the mother is her ‘being’ and the home atmosphere she creates; an environment that exudes a spirit of holiness.
With this in mind we can better understand the words of Rabenu Bachaye stated as he explained a primary role of women, ‘Beis Yaakov’. “Therefore, it is proper that a woman should pray during the time of lighting the Shabbos candles, for that is a Mitzvah upon her; that Hashem bless her, with children who will radiate with Torah. Prayers are especially heard when one is engaged in performing a Mitzvah. In the merit of the light of Shabbos she will merit offspring who illuminate with the light of Torah, for Torah is called light as written in Mishlei “A mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is light.”
Although Rabenu Bachaye refers to the power of prayers expressed while performing any Mitzvah, the period during candle lighting is a particularly choice time. The candles of Shabbos are lit for ‘Shalom Bayis’, to bring peace in the home. The home atmosphere infused with Torah spirit, through encouragement, direction and example, reflects the influence of the woman. The time that a woman illuminates the home with Mitzvos, welcoming the holy aura of Shabbos, is the perfect setting for prayers that the light of Torah be illuminated for all the family.
A person who held high office in Israel, who had no connection to observance, had a grandson who became a Torah scholar of note. Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the great sage known as the Chazon Ish, was asked how to explain this phenomenon. He said that there is no doubt that he had the merit of a grandmother’s tears and prayers from a previous generation, whom every week during candle lighting, poured out her heart and beseeched Hashem that she merit having upright progeny. Even one prayer, even one tear, does not get lost. The merit of that grandmother influenced this grandson and helped him reach the heights that he attained.
First to be instructed regarding receiving the Torah and recognized to be a source of constant influence upon her family, the woman generates a lasting impact that remains throughout the lives of her offspring. It doesn’t matter if the children are 8 or 80. That influence remains forever, spanning generations.
Does the way we conduct ourselves each moment reflect the understanding that everything we do, even action that may seem insignificant, affects others and can change lives in major ways? When lighting the Shabbos candles, do we realize that even if we see the flame extinguished, a fire remains ignited forever?
Rabbi Hershel D. Becker
 Yisro 19:3
 Shemos Rabbah 28:2
 Loc. Cit.
 Rabenu Bachaye
 Maharsha Sotah 21a
 Proverbs 1:8
 Proverbs 6:23
 Ma’aseh Ish Chelek 7
 Rabenu Bachaye ibid.