Passover will soon be here, and sociologists tell us that more Jews will participate in some form of Passover Seder than will participate in any other religious event during the year!
From a religious perspective, the Exodus from Egypt enabled all subsequent Jewish history to unfold. Without Passover we would still be slaves in Egypt! Moses, of course is God’s agent in the liberation and the story’s foremost hero. The Book of Exodus, however, makes it clear that the role women play in that event is crucial. Without the actions of no fewer than six women heroes, Moses never would have gotten so far as to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Without these six women the Exodus could not have taken place, and we would have no Passover to celebrate!
Shiphrah and Puah were humble midwives. Pharaoh ordered them to kill every baby boy that emerged from his mother’s womb. The most powerful man on earth – one worshipped as a god — gave them a direct order! The midwives, though, answered to a higher authority than Pharaoh. Their bravery rings across the millennia as an answer to those Nazis’ who claimed they had no choice but to kill Jews. They were only following orders. Shiphrah and Puah teach us we always have a choice.
Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid her baby in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree. Then she placed him in a wicker basket and floated him among the reeds of the Nile. What courage that took, but her gamble paid off!
Miriam, Moses’ sister watched the basket from afar. When Pharaoh’s daughter drew it out of the water, Miriam runs to her and suggests the baby’s own mother as its nurse. In so doing she saved her brother’s life.
The heroic role of Pharaoh’s daughter also should not escape our attention. She defied her father’s decree and saved Moses. For this she received the privilege of giving Moses’ his name, and she herself received the name Bit-yah, which means “daughter of the Lord.” (Va-yikra Rabbah 1:3; B, Megillah 13A).
The final female hero of Passover is Zipporah, Moses’ wife. She circumcised their son Eleazar when apparently Moses had neglected to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). The passage really does not fit into the flow of the story, so the rabbis could have interpreted it any way they wished. They could have deemed it crucial or inconsequential. The chose to to teach us that God would have killed Moses had Zipporah not intervened and circumcised their son!
The heroism of the women who made Passover possible is a strong and accurate answer to those who claim that women always play a secondary or subordinate role in Jewish thinking.
(My book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives discusses the role of these six women in greater detail)
10 thoughts on “Six Women Made Passover Possible”
Thank God for women and the role they have played, against their own societal norms, to save the Israelites again and again.
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Amen, Rabbi Edelman! Thank you!
And women the world over continue to play a major role in the Passover story: gathering family and friends and sometimes strangers, cooking, cleaning and orchestrating Seders!
Just as at the beginning, Rosie. No women would mean no Passover! Thanks for commenting!
Reblogged this on FindingOurselvesInBiblicalNarratives and commented:
I don’t think we need “Women’s Seders” (although I have no objection to them), nor do we need an orange on the Seder plate. What we need is to discuss at our Seders the heroism of these six women who made Passover possible.
We may not need women’s seders. But a religious experience for a certain group adds a different flavor. A women’s or men’s chevruta can make a unique experience….just like the time I went to Torah study for people in their 20s and 30s. Occasionally, some level of exclusiveness in a group can make for a different learning experience. That Torah study for 20s & 30s was an awesome experience
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I agree. The discussion is more important than the orange, but the orange can serve as a trigger for the discussion.
I have a good story to share: I was at a Bar Mitzvah this past Shabbat. The Bar Mitzvah candidate, Max Sklar, gave a drosh about why sexism must end, and why it is at loggerheads with Judaism, which teaches us that we must work not only at Passover, but year round toget out from under our narrow places. He said women have never been given credit for their contributions to our world, and gave as his example, Rosiland Franklin, whose research laid the groundwork for Watson and Crick to discover DNA. They never acknowledged this, and even used her research without her permission. Max explained that her lab assistant smuggled it out of her lab and gave it to them.
I hope Max’s positive attitude is the wave of the future. He is far ahead of some middle aged men (even a certain rabbi out here who peppers his droshs with sexist jokes) in his respect for women. This may be due to the fact that his grandmother is a tenured professor at UCSF’s school of medicine, one of the few women on the faculty, as Max pointed out.
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They were not six “only”, although gigantic, women, they were thousands and thousands, singing on their own after crossing the sea. Moreover, after the horrible sin of the Golden Calf, when we read that even Aharon has given in to the request of the multitude, a careful reading of the Hebrew text (distinguishing feminin from masculin) shows that the women did not participate in the contribution of the necessary gold! This gesture was certainly determinant in God’s decision to pass over His intention of final full destruction of the People of Israel, turning it into a forty years captivity in the desert.
I firmly believe that Redemption will be brought to all of us by the women, when God will cancel His punishment of their submission to men, given after the Original Sin in Gan Eden. In Hebrew, womb and mercy have the same root! Where men are a bunch of irrational muscles and violence.
Thank you for your comment.
I hope, Dr. Reconati, that you will read my book and see that there was no original sin in the Garden of Eden. But it was the women who traded alive of rover ease for a life of limited duration but with the possibility of real meaning and purpose.