Can you imagine a prominent rabbi reaching a halachic conclusion based on the way a mother educates her children?

Helena, a woman of royalty who was possibly of Hasmonean descent1 or a convert from Adiabene,2 was an extraordinarily righteous woman who lived in the times of the Second Temple. During the holiday of Sukkot, when Jews construct a sukkah outside of their homes to dwell in for seven days, the rabbis visited Queen Helena in her sukkah. Though Queen Helena’s sukkah measured taller than 20 amot (cubits) high, the rabbis did not comment.An extraordinarily righteous woman

From this incident, Rabbi Yehudah learns that a sukkah can measure taller than 20 amot without it being halachically problematic.

Other sages disagree with Rabbi Yehudah’s claim, saying that women are not required to dwell in a sukkah since it is a timebound commandment, and therefore the rabbis made no comment to Queen Helena about the height of her sukkah.

Rabbi Yehudah, however, argues that had Queen Helena’s sukkah been problematic, the rabbis surely would have mentioned it, for she had seven sons who were required to dwell in a sukkah. In addition, Rabbi Yehudah writes, Queen Helena always followed the directives of the rabbis.3

Why did Rabbi Yehudah deem it necessary to give both of these explanations? Isn’t it enough to say that Queen Helena erected a proper sukkah for her seven sons who were commanded to dwell in one?

The additional explanation is necessary, for perhaps the sages would argue that Queen Helena’s sons were young enough that they weren’t required to dwell in a sukkah. According to the rabbis, a boy is required to dwell in a sukkah from the age when he doesn’t need his mother on a constant basis (5–6 years old). Surely, at least one of Queen Helena’s seven sons was of this age. Lest we think that Queen Helena was not strict in following rabbinic commands, Rabbi Yehudah brings the second explanation to clarify that Queen Helena was a woman who made sure to conduct herself in a manner that followed the rabbinical sages.

From this incident we can understand the greatness of Queen Helena, who exemplified the sacred task endowed to Jewish mothers throughout the ages: to educate their children according to the words of the sages. Though Queen Helena herself was not required to dwell in a sukkah, she ensured that a proper sukkah was erected for her children, and she sat inside with them to help them and guide them as needed.4

While guiding her children, she scrupulously followed the words of the rabbis, to the extent that Rabbi Yehudah used her sukkah as an example of the height measurements that are required.