I don’t think there is a more packed parsha than the first reading of the second book of the Torah. Shemos contains like the whole first half of the movie the 10 Commandments. There’s the Jews becoming slaves, Pharaoh’s decree to kill the babies of Egypt, Moses in the basket, Moses killing the slave driver, Moses getting married, the burning bush, and MORE! So in the midst of all these stories about Moses, you might miss that the Jewish women are heavily featured. Quite prominently actually. Anyone who thinks the bible is a misogynistic document need to look no further than parsha Shemos.
A Handmaid’s Tale
The new Pharaoh’s in town and is getting a little worried about the Jewish population numbers (he’s not loving the idea of a minority becoming a majority). So after enslaving them he’s still not at ease. He tells the head of the nursemaids, a pair named Shifra and Puah, to kill any male newborns. Not only do Shifra and Puah completely ignore the order, when questioned about their lack of success, cover their tracks by lying to Pharaoh’s face.
Put yourself in their shoes. You’ve disobeyed a direct order by Pharaoh. Remember, this guy’s predecessor executed a baker because he screwed up the bread order and that Pharaoh liked Jews. So for these women to disobey and lie to Pharaoh is taking quite the risk. From here we learn that sometimes you have to lie to do the right thing, even if it means risking your life to do it.
A Daughter’s Dedication
I’m not going to go into Miriam’s deeds too much because I wrote about it last year. But just as a recap, once Pharaoh decrees that he’s going to kill all the new born males, Amram, a leader of the Jewish people decides to divorce his wife. Quite possibly the dumbest demonstration of cutting off your nose to spite your face, Amram doesn’t want to give Pharaoh the satisfaction of getting to kill Jewish babies. His protest resonates throughout the community and before long, there are more Jewish singles than at the Matzo Ball.
Amram’s daughter, Miriam, sees the lunacy in this and convinces her father that though Pharaoh’s decree kills half the new generation, his act kills the entire future of the Jewish people. Needless to say Amram comes around.
A Mother’s Faith
Yocheved really gets tested in Shemos. With Pharaoh’s decree and a baby on the way, what in the world could make a mother more stressed? She manages to keep baby Moses hidden for three months, but eventually is forced to give up the child for a chance at safety. We all know the story, she puts him in a basket and sends him down the Nile.
But can you imagine being in that situation? Having to make that decision and trusting in Hashem with such emmunah. Marc and I have written countless posts on the trait of emmunah. Poorly translated as faith, emmunah is so much more. What does your belief in God mean unless it is truly tested? It’s not something we like to think about. We all like to believe that if we do some mitzvahs and try our best to be a good person, God’s going to have our back. But that’s not what it’s about. Regardless of our religious levels, sooner or later (chas v’shalom) we’ll likely get tested in some way. Do we let that thing give us permission to kick our believe to the curb or can we use it to strengthen out faith in Hashem?
Little did Yocheved know that when she put her son into that basket, he’d end up not only safe from the decree, not only saved by Pharaoh’s daughter and living in the palace free from slavery, but that moments later she’d be brought in to nurse the child at the princess’s command! (This isn’t a Midrash, this is straight out of the Torah.) It’s a tremendous demonstration of how your situation can turn itself completely around, so never lose faith.
A Wife’s Intuition
After Moses talks to God at the burning bush, he takes his family and heads to Egypt. But along the journey something really bizarre happens.
[Moses] was along the way, in the inn, God confronted him, and wanted to kill him. Tzipporah took a flint-stone and cut off her son’s foreskin, and threw it at His feet saying, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me.” He then withdrew from [Moses]. Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me because of the circumcision.” (Shemos 4:24-26)
Then the story goes back to Moses heading to Pharaoh. What a perplexing interlude! Why is God trying to kill Moses all of a sudden? What did Tzipporah do to save him? So just as some context, Moses had just had a child before talking to God at the burning bush. When he comes down it’s the eighth day of his son’s life and he needs to perform bris milah. But at the same time he needs to go on this mission for God and doing the bris is going to require them to rest. So Moses decides he’s going to delay the mitzvah till later.
According to the Midrash, when Moses gets to an inn to rest from his travels, God, in the form of a giant snake, comes and swallows Moses whole. (Except for one particular part of Moses.) Tzipporah sees that and understands there’s a message and immediately performs the bris milah on her son and the snake spits Moses out. Now, you need to take all Midrashim with a grain of salt. But the idea to focus on, let’s say your friend was swallowed by a snake, what’s the first thing you do? It’s probably not give a baby a circumcision. But that’s what saves Moses.
From here we learn that, sometimes solutions in life aren’t always pragmatic. Sometimes it takes intuition or a gut instinct to make the connections in life. There is an interconnection between all people and when a person does something of a spiritual nature, it can affect other in ways we can’t even imagine. Like a spiritual butterfly effect. Tzipporah saw her husband in peril and she instantly understood this, then acted. Her intuition saved the savior.
The Merit of the Women
The role of women in the exodus story doesn’t stop with these examples. It is well understood that the redemption of the Jews from Egypt came because of the merits of the women. But if that weren’t enough, it was said by the Lubavitcher Rebbe “Just as the generation of Egypt was redeemed in the merit of the righteous Jewish women, so too, our generation will be redeemed in the merit of righteous Jewish women.”