Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
Even in this day and age, most women graciously accept the traditional "ladies first" rule, whether it's getting off a sinking ship or going through a ballroom doorway. Commonly perceived as a concession to the weaker gender by the stronger, the rule is actually founded upon a very different rationale, at least in the Jewish tradition.
When G-d instructed Moses to prepare the people of Israel to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago, He said: "Speak to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel" (Exodus 19:3). The "house of Jacob," our sages explain, are the women; "the sons of Israel," the men. In other words, speak first with the ladies.
The Pain & Pleasure Principle
When Communism swallowed up Russian industry, private enterprise became illegal. Many people, struggling to make a living, would smuggle contraband through the cracks of the Iron Curtain to then sell illegally on the black market. One group came up with a creative method for transporting the contraband across the borders. Feigning a funeral procession they would carry a coffin full of goods right past the Russian guards who never suspected there was anything other than a dead body in the coffin. Unfortunately they grew too accustomed to the success of their scheme and at one funeral procession the border guard noticed that none of the "relatives" of the deceased were crying; in fact they were quite cheerful. Suspicious, he insisted that they open up the coffin.
The Far Horizon
To gain insight into the unique leadership lesson of this week’s Parshah, I often ask an audience to perform a thought experiment. Imagine you are the leader of a people that has suffered exile for more than two centuries, and has been enslaved and oppressed. Now, after a series of miracles, it is about to go free. You assemble them and rise to address them. They are waiting expectantly for your words. This is a defining moment they will never forget. What will you speak about?
Most people answer: freedom. That was Abraham Lincoln’s decision in the Gettysburg Address, when he invoked the memory of “a new nation, conceived in liberty,” and looked forward to “a new birth of freedom.” Some suggest that they would inspire the people by talking about the destination that lay ahead, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Yet others say they would warn the people of the dangers and challenges that they would encounter on what Nelson Mandela called “the long walk to freedom.”