In the Torah portion of Yisro, G‑d tells Moshe:1 “So shall you say to the House of Jacob, and relate to the Children of Israel.” The Mechilta comments:2 “ ‘The House of Jacob’ refers to women, while ‘the Children of Israel’ refers to men … Relate to the women the highlights [of the Torah and its commandments], and the details to the men.”

“Highlights” refers to the general principles from which the details derive. They are therefore similar to the Mishnah, “whose language is terse and encompasses many matters,3 “ since the many details discussed in the Gemara are hinted at in the Mishnah.

This manner of transmission also characterized the original giving of the Torah: First G‑d gave the Ten Commandments, the general principles of the entire Torah (for “all 613 Commandments are included [in a concealed manner] within the Ten Commandments).”4 G‑d then went on to provide specific details.

The reason for His doing so is because this is the general manner of any transmission — first the general rules and principles (the “highlights” that include all the details within them), and then each detail one by one.

Thus, according to the Mechilta , women received the essence and general principles of the Torah, from whence emanated the details that were later transmitted to the men.

This being so, we understand that the Jewish woman relates to and is connected with all the commandments of the Torah, even to those time-bound positive commandments which they are not obligated to perform.5

This will be better understood in light of the explanation of R. Yitzchak Luria6 that “when the male performs a mitzvah it is not necessary for the female to perform it herself, for his performance of the commandment includes her as well. This, then, is the hidden meaning of the saying of our Sages7 that ‘One’s wife is considered as the person’s very own body.’ And as the Zohar states:8 ‘husband and wife as they exist alone are each but half a body.’ ”

This is also so with unmarried women.9 For since husband and wife constitute one soul10, even before these two halves come together, that which is done by the male half affects the female half as well.

But why were the “highlights” received only by the women and not by the men; what special quality do women possess that they merited to receive the principles, while the men only received the details?

This may be connected to a general merit that women possess with regard to spiritual service. For we observe that faith, fear and reverence of G‑d is found to a greater extent in women than in men — women have within them the aspect of faith as it emanates from G‑d.11

This may also explain why, if the mother is Jewish, then the child is Jewish as well, while the child’s details (i.e. whether he is a Kohen, Levi or Israelite) depend on the lineage of the father.

Since Torah and mitzvos were given to the Jewish people, Jewish women were singled out to receive the general principles — matters that relate to general faith in G‑d and reverence for Him. For it is the mother upon whom rests the overall aspect of Jewish sanctity and personality.

The men, however, upon whom are dependent the detailed and specific levels of the Jew — Kohen, Levite, etc. — were given the detailed laws.

Because women relate more easily to the general aspects of Torah and mitzvos, they are only obligated to perform those mitzvos that are more general in nature, i.e., they are freed from positive commandments that are constrained by time. Especially so, since these are the responsibility of their husbands, or husbands to be.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXXI, pp. 93-98.