Ladies First?

Shalom aleichem!

Mazel tov to my brother Aaron on his upcoming wedding to Ms. Joey Siegel!

Condolences to Jack Sonnenschein on the passing of his father last week in Montreal.

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Levi Wolff (now the rabbi at Central Synagogue in Sydney, Australia) was 8 years old when he attended a Farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) in 1981. At that gathering, the Rebbe dedicated some time to discussing a passage in Rashi’s commentary on the weekly Torah portion.“Jacob put his children [first, followed by] his wives, on the camels,” we read inGenesis 31:17.Wouldn’t placing his wives before his children have served the dual purpose of showing proper respect for his wives, as well as educating their children to honor their parents? Ladies first, as the saying goes.

Rashi explains: “Jacob placed his children in front of his wives. [On the other hand, his  brother] Esav placed his wives before his children, [not because he respected them, but to satisfy his lascivious intent].”

In other words, this verse teaches us the difference between Jacob and Esav: Placing his wives first was an indication of his lustful behavior, while Jacob exhibited modesty and did not parade them at the front.

The following day in school, Levi’s class learned the story of Moses. After an absence from his birthplace, Moses returns to Egypt with his family. It is in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot (4:20), that we read, “Moses took his wife and sons and mounted them on the donkey.” Noticing that the verse lists wife before children, Levi asked his teacher about this incongruity. Just the previous day, the Rebbe had taught that a mensch places his children first! What was Moses thinking?

Unable to answer his question, Levi’s teacher suggested that he place his question in writing, and submit it to the Rebbe’s office.

At approximately 11 that evening, the phone rang in Levi’s home. His father answered the phone; it was Rabbi Binyamin Klein, a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat.

Rabbi Klein said that the Rebbe just saw Levi’s letter, and had given him a response to relay to Levi.

This story is, in my opinion, nothing short of astounding. The Rebbe was the recipient of one of the highest number of private letters delivered to any address in New York. His time was always in demand, and he would regularly meet with individuals through the night, returning to his office at “770” a couple of hours later. Levi’s question wasn’t exactly a life-or-death issue. It probably could have waited. But if the question was important to an 8-year-old, then it was important to the Rebbe.

So what was the Rebbe’s response?

You can read the original text of the Rebbe’s response here. In my own words: Moses’ children were both very young, so there would have been no way to put them on the donkey if their mother wasn’t there to hold them!

Shabbat Shalom,