Why does the Torah say that Yaakov placed his sons on the camels before his wives?
Bereishis Rabah 74:5: We learn that a Chacham puts his sons first, and a fool (Esav) puts his wives first (36:6). 1
Malbim: In four ways, Yaakov made it appear that he does not flee, so people would assume that Lavan knows, so they need not tell him. (a) One who flees first sends his wealth stealthily, and then flees with his household. Yaakov first put his family on the camels, and then sent his wealth with his slaves (31:18). (b) He openly put them on the camels. (c) He took his Metaltelim; one who flees normally sells them beforehand. (d) He openly told people that he is going to his father Yitzchak in Eretz Kena'an.
Ha'amek Davar: He put his sons first, for they were used to riding on camels, and afterwards his wives, due to fear (since they ride side-saddle, for modesty, and are prone to fall). 2
QUESTIONS ON RASHI
Rashi writes: "'His sons and his wives' - Yaakov put the men before the women; whereas Esav put the women before the men (36:6)." What does this distinction reflect about Yaakov and Esav?
Gur Aryeh #1: Esav's motivation for marriage was his own physical lusts; he considered his wives of primary importance, whereas the children were merely a secondary result. Yaakov married primarily in order to bear the twelve tribes, and his wives were the necessary prerequisite for doing so.
Gur Aryeh #2: Hashem Himself desired that the twelve tribes come about, even prior to their births. This was the cause of Yaakov marrying; and as such, the tribes are objectively first. This was not the case for Esav.
Rashi writes: "Yaakov put the men before the women...." If so, why did Moshe seat his wife on the donkey, before his sons (Shemos 4:20)?
Gur Aryeh: Moshe's children were infants, and needed their mother. 1
Also Moshav Zekenim to 36:6 says this.
Rashi writes: "Yaakov put the men before the women...." But we find that Yaakov himself, when his family crossed Nachal Yabok (32:23), helped his wives across before helping his children?
Gur Aryeh #1: It was easier to help the [adult] women to cross the river than the young children, so he took care of the women first. 1
Gur Aryeh #2: The focus on whom to put first is relevant when going to settle in a new place. Priorities shown at that time are significant; marrying and having children are the essence of settling the world. Crossing a river is not such a significant step.