Here's To Strong Women


This Shabbat, we start the book of Shemot/Exodus. I want you to take a moment, and think about the significant events that are about to unfold in the next few weeks. Close your eyes and transport yourself to the magid section of your Passover seder when we retell the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt.

Let my people go.
The Plagues.
Charlton Heston splits the Sea of Reeds.
2 million Israelites escape. (Which is where the Haggadah ends)
A rock provides water for the thirsty Israelites.
God provides manna.
And so on and so forth.

From our parashah this week forward, one character takes us through it all - Moses. 

But we would be without Moshe Rabbenu, a leader like no other in Jewish history, if it weren't for six heroic women.
The first two heroes were the midwives, Shiphra and Puah -  who refused Pharaoh's orders to kill every baby boy. The action of these women might just be the first record of civil disobedience. 

After their heroism, Pharaoh orders all baby boys be thrown into the Nile. Yocheved - the mother of Miriam, Aaron and Moses, hides her baby and saves him from that vicious fate. Eventually, she can no longer hide him and places him in a basket in the river. 

Pharaoh's daughter, Bitya or Batya in later Jewish tradition, spots the basket on the bank and has a servant fetch it.  Her courage to rescue an Israelite child and bring him up as her own in the very palace where her father was plotting the destruction of the Israelites is quite miraculous.

And though Bitya saved the boy from the river, it was Moses' sister Miriam who stood on the bank of the Nile to learn his fate and arranged for their mother to nurse him for Pharaoh's daughter. Miriam kept Moses connected to his family, and his people.

And finally, the sixth heroine that enables Moses to grow into Moshe Rabbenu, Moses our Teacher, is his Midianite wife Zipporah. A little later in our parsha, in an obscure few verses about the circumcision of Moses & Zipporah's son, Zipporah performs the circumcision on their son and saves Moses from God's wrath. 

Rick Lupert poetically sums up these foundational women in God Wrestler

This is where the idea of
the strong woman was invented.
Shifrah and Pooah, 
the midwives who refused to
follow Pharaoh’s instructions,
who let the boys live.
Yocheved, who floated her son
down the river to save him from those
who would put him
in the river.
Miriam who followed a waterproof basket
who tricked a princess into
letting a baby return to
his mother.
Pharaoh’s daughter
who doesn’t get a name
who defied her father
and raised a Hebrew child
as her own.
This is where the idea of
the strong woman was invented.
There would be no Moses
without them.

Six role models, six heroes, six strong women without whom we would not have Moses: The midwives Shiphra & Puah, Moses' mother Yocheved, Pharaoh's daughter Bitya, Moses' sister Miriam, and Moses' wife, Zipporah. 

As the sign that hangs in my daughter's nursery says:
Here's to strong women,
May we know them, 
May we be them,
May we raise them.


Delivered at Temple Sinai of Roslyn on 12/5/2017.
Sources: Rabbi Sacks, Rabbi Bonheim

Alex KressComment