By What do Women Earn a Place in the Next World?
By Avi Lazerson
"By What do Women Earn a Place in the Next World?" This was the question that Rav said to Rav Chiya. (Talmud Brachot 17a) It was obvious to Rav that men could merit the next world by study of the Torah and performance of the mitzvot, but in those days women did not have the opportunity or ability to study the Torah. It bothered Rav very much than men could earn a place in the next world through their learning Torah, but women who were exempt from the mitzvah of learning Torah, they must have also a place in the next world, if so, by what means did they achieve it? It was obvious that it was not through learning, but something else.
We must realize that in their days which was some two thousand years ago that life was different than it is now. Very few people were educated enough to read, much less engage in analytical thought and Torah leaning. Boys were sent to school but at an early age they had to go out to work. Girls learned from their mothers the skills that they would need when they married and were responsible for their houses. The girls rarely received what we call a proper education in reading and writing, much less, Torah logic and analysis.
Rav answered his own question: that by virtue of their sons learning the basic Bible texts in the synagogues (that was were the children were taught in their time), by their husbands studying the Oral Torah in the study halls, and by waiting for them until they returned from the study halls, (the women urged their husbands to travel, even to another city, to learn) these women were able to acquire merit to have a place in the next world. It seems that since they encouraged their husbands and children to learn Torah, they shared in the merit of that learning.
Yet we know that women have several mitzvot of their own such as family purity and lighting the Shabbat candles; plus they are obligated in all the prohibitions of the Torah, just like the men. Why do they have to rely on the fact that their husbands and children learn, in order to merit a place in the next world?
In addition, what about women today? There are today many fine women's schools that instruct the girls who learn with the same dedication as men. Does this mean that today's women who learn can no longer rely on their husband's and children's learning to inherit the next world? Must they continue to learn Torah even after they leave school, marry and raise a family? Or perhaps in the merit of their own learning they would never achieve a place in the next world? Or can they add up the merit from their own learning plus that of their husband's and children's learning and get an even better place in the next world than their husband? Or perhaps, if the husband encourages the wife to learn he will get a better place? Shouldn't the husband share in merits acquired by his wife's learning?
Is this the early form of discrimination against women? Is this just some grandmother story to keep women happy? If their husbands and children are learning, how on earth can women actually receive an equal share? Perhaps in reality, they do not benefit from their husbands learning; maybe this is only a way to 'keep the women in their place'?
How does all of this work?
The answer to these questions is really quite simple. Rav was really teaching us the merit of an 'enabler'. A person who is an 'enabler' shares in the rewards of the person that was enabled to do something. If one person can not do something unless another person helps, then the helper shares in the reward.
In the time of the Talmud, it was the women who had the ability to enable their husbands and children to learn. Without the women taking over the home, ensuring that the home was run properly, the men could not go to the study halls to learn. Therefore if the woman was the 'enabler' of the husbands learning, she shared in his achievements.
This is likened to two men who wanted to take fruit off from a high fruit tree. One man was short and heavy, the other was tall and thin. Neither man could reach the fruit. Said the short man to the tall man, stand on my shoulders and together we can reach the fruit. So the thin man stood on the short man's shoulders and picked the fruit from the tree as the short man walked around the orchard with the tall man on his shoulders. Afterwards they split the fruit equally between themselves since neither could reach it by his own power; the short man was the 'enabler', without his help, the tall man could not pick the fruit.
So, too, the women, without whom the men could never achieve much in their learning, share in the men's learning for with out the women's help, the men could not possibly be able to learn.
We see from this an important general rule. Who ever is an 'enabler', that means to enable another to do a mitzvah shares in the reward of the mitzvah that is performed, as if the 'enabler' did it him/herself. This is true for those who donate money that others may perform mitzvot or that others should sit and learn. It is as if the 'enabler' did it himself.
Great is the one who helps his friend to do a mitzvah, for he too is rewarded.
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from the January 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine