The midrash relates that once while Rabbi Akiva was giving a sermon, his congregants were falling asleep. To jolt them from their sleep he asked them, “Why did Queen Esther merit to rule over 127 lands? Because she was the granddaughter of Sarah, who lived 127 years.”
A strange story with seemingly little significance carries an eternal message.
The recent Pew survey left us with an important question: How can we save the American Jew? Perhaps Rabbi Akiva is sharing his answer to this question.
The congregation falling asleep alludes to a generation of Jews who are spiritually falling asleep. The rabbis are preaching, teachers are teaching, but the people aren’t listening.
Rabbi Akiva suggests that to jolt a generation from sleepiness and to reach the Jewish family, we need to place our focus on the Jewish women. Access to a Jewish tomorrow depends on, and is in the hands of, the Jewish women.
Sarah, the first Jewish woman, deserves the credit for saving the first vanishing Jewish child, Isaac. Had it not been for Sarah, perhaps Isaac would have been lost to the influences of Ishmael. Sarah had the insight and fortitude to comprehend the danger of the vanishing Jew. Sarah challenged her husband Abraham, and ultimately prevailed upon him to send Isaac away to protect their Jewish son.
Rebecca did the same for Jacob. She influenced her husband to send Jacob away to marry within, and save him from the local dangers including Esau. Miriam is credited with saving Moses, and Esther with saving the Jewish world.
King Solomon says in Proverbs that “the women are the crown.” Just as a crown sits above the head and adorns the head with glory, so too a God”“fearing woman. Women set the mood in every home: “Happy wife, happy life” and vice versa. Women have the power to mold the hearts and minds of their spouses and children.
Rabbi Akiva authored this message because he too personally experienced the power of the Jewish woman. All his accomplishments, successes, and leadership he attributed to his wife Rachel, who encouraged and influenced him to make serious changes to his life and seek God and His Torah.
“Our children are our guarantee” is the promise we made to God at the foot of Mount Sinai. We will educate them and teach them the Torah, and that will guarantee a Jewish tomorrow. But how do we reach those Jewish children in order to influence them? The answer, says Rabbi Akiva, is through the Jewish women!
The Jewish woman has the ability to influence her entire family in the direction she chooses. The women set the tone, and they set the mood. Jewish women were given priority to light the Shabbat candles, because candles set the atmosphere, and women do too. Not by coincidence does Jewish heritage follow the maternal lineage.
If we want Jewish children to admire, and adhere to our Torah, we need to inspire and influence our Jewish women. A committed Jewish woman will persuade her husband and children to follow her path.
For four decades the Lubavitcher Rebbe made Jewish outreach a high priority. He trained tens of thousands of students in the importance, and the how to, of bringing people back to a Torah”“observant path.
When my mother was sick she asked the Rebbe for a blessing for health. The Rebbe told her that if she would go out and influence Jewish women to light the Shabbat candles she would live long. Every Friday my mother would stand with her cane in front of ShopRite of Fort Lee, inspiring Jewish women to light up their homes with the warmth and affection of Shabbos.
Our sages tell us that in the merit of the Jewish women we were redeemed from Egypt and in the merit of the Jewish women we will be redeemed again in the end of days.
It’s up to the Jewish women!