The story of Passover speaks about the liberation of the Jewish people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. During this period of time, every Jewish family is commanded to tell the story of the Exodus out of Egypt and to relate to it as if he or she personally made the journey from slavery to freedom.
At such a crucial time, it is critical to recall that the story of Passover also includes the liberation of women for the Talmud states that “it was in the merit of the righteous women that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt.” According to a Rashi commentator, Jewish women donated mirrors to the Tabernacle when they left Egypt and these mirrors were dear to Hashem:
“These are dearer to me than everything for through these the Jewish women bore many children in Egypt. When their husbands were exhausted from the toil of slavery, they would meet them with food and drink and decorate themselves with the mirrors. As a result, their husbands desired them and they conceived and had children.”
This was only one of many instances of Jewish women playing a pivotal role in the Passover story. While Passover Seders usually focus on Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh’s wickedness, women such as Miriam, Yocheved, Batya, and Tzipporah also played a crucial part in the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt and as feminists, we should recognize their great deeds as well.
Pharaoh’s astrologers predicted that a Jewish male would be born that would overtake his throne. As a result, in an attempt to limit the Jewish birth rate, he ordered that all of the males endure back-breaking labor. But when he saw that this did not affect the Jewish birthrate, Pharaoh tried another tactic.
According to Exodus 1:16-17, “The King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shifra and the other one named Puah, ‘every boy who is born, kill him and let every girl live.’ The midwives feared G-d and let the boys live.” According to the Talmud, Shifra was actually Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Puah was Miriam, Moses’ sister. In reward for their bravery in defiance of Pharaoh’s evil command, G-d rewarded Yocheved by having the priests of Israel descended from her via her son Aaron and Miriam was blessed to have King David be one of her descendants.
After Pharaoh saw that his scheme via the midwives did not work, he became more overt with his evil plot and ordered that all of the Hebrew boys be drowned in the Nile River. Following this decree, Amram, Moses’ father, who was the grandson of Levi, a son of Jacob, decided to divorce his wife for he saw no purpose to having a Jewish marriage if all of the baby boys would drown in the Nile River.
However, his daughter Miriam, who was one of the seven Jewish prophetesses, received the prophecy that her father would give birth to a son who would redeem the Jewish people. So she decided to confront her father at age 6:
“Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s. Pharaoh only decreed against the males and you decreed against the males and females. He only decreed death in this world and you decreed death both in this world and the next. Pharaoh is evil and the chances are that his decree won’t come into fruition yet you are righteous. Surely your decree will come into fruition.”
Indeed, many Jews following the example of Amram had decided to divorce their wives following Pharaoh’s decree. However, according to the Talmud, Amram decided to heed Miriam’s advice and remarried his wife. Following that, all of the Jewish men remarried their wives. The following year, Moses was born.
After Moses, the liberator of the Jewish people, was born, his mother Yocheved tenderly hid him from the authorities for 3 months. Following that, she could hide him no more. So, she created a basket and placed Moses into the Nile River, hoping that someone will rescue Moses and raise him.
Soon thereafter, Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who was bathing in the Nile River, found the basket with the baby Moses inside. According to some Jewish sources, she had leprosy and was amazed that she was healed the second that she took the basket from the river. Other sources claim that Batya was actually secretly converting to Judaism and for that reason, she was bathing in the Nile River.
Regardless, despite the fact that her very own father decreed that the Hebrew baby boys needed to die, Batya decided to defy her father’s decree and to raise the child as her own. Miriam, who was waiting nearby to discover what would happen to the baby, was bold enough to suggest to Batya that a Hebrew woman be brought to ween the child. Batya happily agreed and even paid Yocheved money for breastfeeding her own child. This enabled Yocheved to play a role in her son’s life so long as he needed her milk.
Batya grew up in an evil household full of idolatry and sin. Before her father decreed that the Hebrew baby boys should drown in the Nile, he had ordered that hundreds of babies be killed so that he could bathe in their blood because his advisors told him that it would heel a skin disease he suffered from.
While G-d heeled his disease in order to save the babies, this did not stop him from ordering another evil decree against Jewish babies. However, despite being surrounded by pure evil, Batya chose the path of righteousness and stood up to her father’s evil decree knowing that she could be killed for doing so.
According to the Jewish sages, Moses used to bring light into the room whenever he entered. While he got this light in the merit of his parents Amram and Yocheved, it was Batya who nurtured this light and helped him to reach the point where his face was radiated with G-d’s light. Mar Uvda related that the countenance of Moses shined “like the son of Batya.”
According to the Jewish sages, it was Batya’s decision to transform from being part of a house of idolatry and sin to joining the Jewish people that inspired Moses to have extreme humility and compassion, not only for people but also for animals. Since Batya stood with the Jewish people during their dark hour of need and raised Moses as her own son inside the palace, she was elevated from being a daughter of pharaoh to a daughter of G-d.
After Moses fled Egypt, he went to Midian. The Priest of Midian Jethro had once been an advisor to Pharaoh but because of his friendly attitude towards the Hebrews, he was forced to leave Pharaoh’s court. However, before he went to Midian, he took a staff that was created at the beginning of the world that had the name of G-d engraved on it with him. G-d gave this staff to Adam.
It was passed onto Noah, who gave it to Shem. It was also carried by Avraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob gave it to Joseph but when Joseph died, Jethro took it. From that point, he placed it in his garden, where it got stuck in the ground. After that, he said that only the suitor who could take it out could marry his daughter Tzipporah, who was famous for her fine character and beauty.
When Moses arrived at Jethro’s place, not only was he able to take out the staff but he also defended Jethro’s daughters who were often harassed by shepherds due to their father’s decision to abandon idolatry. Following that, Tzipporah became Moses’ wife. The staff that was given to Moses by Jethro accompanied Moses on his journey to see Pharaoh and with it, he performed many miracles for the Jewish people. In messianic times, this staff will reappear.
While on the way to Egypt to redeem the Jewish people, Tzipporah becomes the heroine who saved Moses’ life. Moses was almost killed due to his decision to postpone circumcising his son due to their haste to come to Egypt in order to liberate the Jewish people. However, in order to save Moses, Tzipporah from her own initiative circumcised her son and this act results in saving Moses’ life. After the circumcision, the attack upon Moses ceases and he proceeds to Egypt in order to liberate the Jewish people.
According to the Talmud, three people led the exodus out of Egypt: Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Moses led by teaching Torah. Aaron led via his service as high priest. And Miriam led by educating the women to follow the ways of G-d. After the splitting of the Red Sea, she led all of the Jewish women in the desert in song and dance in honor of Hashem with tambourines.
While the Jewish people wandered through the desert, they were accompanied by a special well that provided the Jewish people with water during their journey that was created in honor of Miriam. For 40 years, the Jewish people received all of their water via Miriam and her righteousness. According to Numbers 28:18, “It was divine providence that the water would only flow towards someone who is generous because water is a specific reward for kindness.”
According to Jewish scholars, Miriam’s well was created during the six days of the creation of the world alongside Bilaam’s donkey’s mouth and Isaac’s ram. The water was prepared in advance in order to sustain the Jewish people during their journey from bondage to freedom. At the end of days, Miriam’s well will appear at each home and will flow all the way to Jerusalem. Anyone who is sick will be able to wash their hands in this water and will be healed.
As Jewish women, we also have an obligation to recount the story of the Exodus and how it relates to us today. In Judaism, also the women are commanded to read the Hagaddah and study the story of the Exodus out of Egypt. According to Jewish law, there is no distinction between men and women at the Passover Seder. In addition, with the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide, we should all be inspired by the Passover story in order to take a stand for the liberty and freedom of all peoples in our time.
This Op-Ed/Analysis is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of JerusalemOnline.com if you would like to send us your op-ed to be published – [email protected]