The Oral Tradition

Thursday, 1 February, 2024 - 4:57 pm

As Rebbetzin Esther enjoys a well-deserved week in New York at the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries, I am privileged to up my game on the home front.

As I filled in for my children’s best Morah (Mommy!), my daughter reminded me, “That’s not the way Mommy does it.” From morning prayers to preparing lunch, I have very big shoes to fill. More importantly, doing it Mommy’s way is sacred!

(And, of course it reminds me how lucky I am. Amongst Shluchim, this week has been nicknamed Shluchos Appreciation Week).

What is it about the motherly touch that is so meaningful to children? Why is a mother-father dynamic so important to the family unit?


In this week’s parsha Yitro the Jewish people are presented with the greatest gift ever – the Torah.

The Torah was delivered in dual form, written and oral. Hashem first tells Moshe to relay the messages to the Jewish people. Later, Hashem instructs Moshe to commit the general ideas to writing, in what becomes known as the Five Books of Moses. The oral traditions came first, but were compiled later, primarily in what is known as the Talmud.

The verse in Proverbs states, “Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.” The original Hebrew word for “instruction” in this verse is Torah (שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך).Our Sages explain the difference between the discipline of your father and the Torah of your mother, as referring to the two parts of our holy Torah. The “discipline of your father” refers to the Written Torah and the “Torah of your mother” refers to the Oral Torah.

Why is the oral Torah more specifically associated with mothers? And, why is the word Torah employed exclusively when speaking of mothers? For most of Jewish history we can assume that fathers studied Torah more than mothers. Yet the scripture itself chooses the term Torah for mothers!?


The real secret to Jewish tradition surviving persecution, dispersion, assimilation and apathy lies with the mothers. It is the Oral Torah that is the secret sauce that keeps us going. If Judaism were relegated to the text itself, we would have shrines to a faith and people that once were. But, we would not have active Jews today.  (Interestingly, other faiths have latched on to the Written Torah. But, the Oral Torah remains the exclusive domain of the Jewish people).

The reason we do indeed have a thriving Jewish nation today is thanks to the traditions passed down in the homes. It is the rituals and memories of Mom’s home that drive Judaism into the future. From her insistence that we do it this way, to her disapproving head shake – it’s Jewish mothers that have passed on the sacred commitment to our faith. Sometimes the spoken word is much more powerful than the recorded word.

As the Chabad movement celebrates the heroic women on the spiritual front lines of Judaism, let us remember that it is their subtle, motherly touch that has molded us into who we are as nation. The gentle, yet firm, guidance has preserved us – and will take us forward into a world of sanctity, harmony, and goodness – with the coming of Moshiach.

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