In this weeks parsha, God reveals himself to the nation of Israel and gives Moses the 10 Commandments. In doing so, the bris (covenant) between the Jewish people and God reaches a whole new level. But when God asks the Jewish people if they indeed do want to enter into this new level we see something very interesting.
Moses went up to [the Presence of] God, and Hashem called to him form the mountain, saying, “This is what you shall say to the House of Yaakov, and tell to the Bnei (children) Yisrael.
‘You saw what I did to Egypt and [how] I carried you on wings of eagles, and brought you to Me. And now if you listen diligently to My voice, and preserve My covenant; you shall be My special treasure among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine. You will be to Me a kingdom of ministers, and a holy nation.’
These are the words that you shall speak to Bnei Yisrael.”
No More No Less
What did God just offer to the Jewish people? We’ve got ‘holy nation’ ‘special treasure’ ‘preserve My covenant’. So what exactly is a covenant? A contract? An agreement? It would be more helpful to think of it as merger. In Judaism a covenant is a union that creates a new entity between participants. When else do we see this? Marriage. In Judaism, when two people get married, we believe those two individuals are reborn under the chuppah as one soul.
So in effect, God is making the Jewish people into something new and it’s happening vis-a-vis a new relationship with God. That’s pretty big. You’d think Moses would then go on to tell them the parameters and requirements of this covenant. But he doesn’t. Because God reiterates “These are the words you shall speak to Bnei Yisrael.” Rashi comments on this “repetition” saying it means “tell them no more, no less.” Meaning all they need to know is that they’re getting this new dimension of this relationship.
The House of Jacob?
If you look above you’ll see another odd “repetition.”
“This is what you shall say to the House of Yaakov, and tell to the Bnei Yisrael.”
House of Jacob? Children of Israel? Jacob and Israel are the same person. What’s going on? We learn from other parts of the Torah that the house (Bayis) of an individual refers to his family, particularly, his wife. When we talk about Shalom Bayis (peace in the home) we usually are referring to doing acts for the sake of the wife. From this we learn that God had Moses consulted with the women first before telling the men.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
That’s quite an interesting thing for God to do. Torah Judaism is often thought as highly patriarchal. And if you don’t want to say the religion is, ancient civilizations definitely were. On top of that, men have a lot more mitzvahs! (Remember there are 613, but you only do the ones that apply to you.) Why are you asking the women first?
What the Torah is saying is that if you ask the women and they so no, there’s no reason to ask the men. Say what you will about society instituted gender norms, and certainly there are exceptions, but it’s hard not to recognize that women are more intuitive than men.
The Torah acknowledges that are qualities inherently different between the sexes. It teaches that it is easier for a woman to be more spiritually connected. That commitment is easier for her too. And so because of those advantages, the men need more mitzvahs to connect. The Torah isn’t saying women shouldn’t wrap tefillin, the Torah is saying there’s no need for it.
I have to check with the wife first.
There a story of a successful business man. Before closing every major business deal, the business man would always take the person he was making the deal with to a dinner with his wife. And no matter how profitable or sound the deal seemed, if the wife said no, the deal was off.
There is an inescapable truth that women understand things men don’t. So when the Creator of the universe comes with an offer to change you, every child that will ever come from your lineage, and affect the whole world, you’d better run it past your wife first. God just cut out the unnecessary first step and went to who was going to actually make the decision.