Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah PortionShemos) Women First

The first verses in the Book of Exodus list the names of the children of Yaacov who had settled in Egypt.

The verse states, “With Yaacov, each man and his household came.” The Hebrew word used here for household, is Baiso. Generally speaking, the Hebrew word used to describe one’s family, is Mishpacha. Commentators expound why the word Baiso was used here.

The root of the word Baiso is Bayis – a house. A person’s address is his home; one’s home indicates his lodging and stability. One’s home must have a solid foundation upon which the rest is built.

Yaacov and his descendants obviously did not haul their actual homes down to Egypt. What the Torah means by emphasizing that each of Yaacov’s descendants came with their Baiso, is that they came with the foundation of belief in G-d that Yaacov had taught and instilled in them.

This foundation of belief was essential for the Jewish family, enabling them to endure the 210 years they spent in Egypt until they were freed.

The concept of Bayis indicating a belief in G-d, shows up again in our portion. The Torah tells us that the Pharoh was disturbed by the population surge of the Jews, and instructed Shifra and Puah, two Jewish midwives, to perform partial birth abortions if they recognized that the baby was a boy.

The Torah informs us, “The midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the King of Egypt commanded, and they caused the boys to live!” A later verse informs us, “And because the midwives feared G-d, He made them Batim – houses.”

Did G-d actually make physical houses for the midwives as their reward? Our Sages tell us that the Batim – houses – that the Torah is referring to, are dynasties. The midwife Shifra, who was Yocheved the mother of Moshe, became the ancestress of the ‘House’ of Kohanim/Priests and the Levites. Puah who was Miriam – Moshe’s sister, became the ancestress of the ‘House’ of King David, the Jewish Monarchy.

The common thread between the Kohanim/Levites and the Monarchy was to imbue, inculcate and instill, G-dliness into the hearts of the Jewish people. Hence they are called Batim – homes – the foundations of our beliefs.

The Kohain Gadol – High Priest – on Yom Kippur had an extremely busy day. One of his functions was to offer a sacrifice on behalf of his family. The word used by the Torah to indicate his family, is again Baiso, and not Mishpacha. Our Sages derive from this that the High Priest was required to be married during the service of Yom Kippur. The word Bayis refers to his wife.

One of the Sages in the Talmud would relate that he always referred to his wife as his Bayis – house. The great commentator Rashi explains that since the functionality of the house is orchestrated through one’s wife – she is thus the foundation of the house.

King Solomon in Proverbs states, “Listen my son…and do not stray from the Torah of your mother.” Ibin Ezra explains that a mother is inherently endowed to correctly guide her children, through her firm belief in G-d and Torah.

King David in Psalms says, “He who sets up the barren Bayis – house, Hallelukah!” Our Sages teach us that this refers to the great women in our history who were barren, until G-d turned to their pleas and righteous deeds, granting their request. For example: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Chana.

These women personified the ideals of the lady of the Jewish home and whom our women, wives and mothers, continually strive to emulate.

When G-d was getting ready to give the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, He told Moshe, “Ko Somar L’Bais Yaacov – this is what you are to inform the house of Yaacov. Our Sages of the Talmud comment; this refers to the laws that Moshe was to instruct the women. This took place before instructing the men.

At Mount Sinai, women were charged to reliably be the foundation of the Jewish Bayis - home. This is because women set the tone of the home and are the ones responsible to inculcate love of Torah in their children, a task best suited to their loving nature!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks