Rashi says that Beit Yaakov refers to the women, while Bnei Yisrael refers to the men. Okay, great explanation. But why does it say the women first?
“A woman’s father has a fruit field, and it becomes part of her dowry. She gets married and her husband is out on the field, picking fruit. A guy passes by and wants to buy the field. Can the husband agree to sell it before the wife, since it was part of her dowry?” My classmates nodded noncommittally, unsure of the answer. “No. He can’t sell it without her permission, and she needs to give her permission first. Why? Because a kosher woman listens to her husband,” my teacher said, and I gagged. “So if her husband wants to sell the field, a kosher wife will sell it. However, since it’s her field because it was part of her dowry, she needs to give her permission too.” I continued gagging.
“So it goes for Matan Torah,” the teacher continued. “If the men had accepted the Torah first, then the women, being the kosher souls that they were, would have said yes simply because they were listening to the will of their husbands. Thus, the women had to accept the Torah first to make sure that they were really accepting it with all their hearts.”
As soon as she finished the lesson, my heart fell. At first I thought it was so feminist to put the women before the men! Of course, women are looking for equality with men, not to be before them, but considering all the times where women are ignored in the Torah, putting them first here equalizes it a little bit. But no; even that my teacher had to take away.
Men and women were commanded together several times in the Torah. However, there was at least one time where the commandment applied to both men and women, but was not directly commanded to woman: to abstain from eating from the Tree of Knowledge. God said to Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, you must not eat thereof; for on the day you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17). However, it’s five verses later in Gen 2:22 that God created woman. The commandment is never specifically relayed to Eve, but it’s obvious she knows of it, as when the snake asks her about whether or not she is forbidden from eating from any tree, she replies, “Of the fruit of the tree which is in the center of the garden God has said: ‘You shall not eat of it and you shall not touch it, lest you die’” (Gen 3:3). Eve, however, misquoted God: she said that God had said not to touch the Tree, while in the original commandment to Adam, God said simply not to eat from it. Eve also said to the snake that God “has” said; i.e., God said it once, but not in her hearing. One can assume that Adam relayed the message instead of God telling Eve directly.
We all know how the story ends: the snake persuaded Eve to eat from the Tree, Eve had Adam eat from the Tree, God got angry at them, then expelled them from the Garden of Eden. The punishment for later generations is that women have pain at childbirth and humankind has to work hard for sustenance. In short, the results were disastrous.
Eve had an equal obligation to Adam in the prohibition of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Yet God did not bother commanding Eve against eating from it, simply allowing Adam to pass the message on. Seeing how it didn’t work out so well, God addressed the women first at Matan Torah, making up for the fact that God did not address woman at all about the Tree of Knowledge.
After Matan Torah, Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the rest of the Torah. When he didn’t come down on the expected day, the Jews built the Golden Calf. The women refused to participate, meriting the holiday of Rosh Hodesh in reward. Once again, the people commanded second messed up.
This shows that neither men nor women should have supremacy. There shouldn’t be one sex with more privileges than the other; there should be total equality. I am infamous for yelling at people when they use the word lady to describe a woman when they wouldn’t use the term gentleman, since it patronizes women. “But don’t feminists want to be better than men?” my uneducated friends will ask. “NO! Equal! We want to be equal!” I will exclaim. Women don’t want to be idolized or patronized; we want equality. Not above, definitely not below. EQUAL.
I’m not saying that God made a mistake in the Garden of Eden; God gave Adam and Eve all the tools to succeed. God doesn’t choose the path we decide, so it’s not God’s fault that the original humans erred. However, this just proves that our Creator is aware of the fact that women and men need to be equal. As you eat your cheesecake this Shavuot, remember the lesson in equality we learn from Adam and Eve.