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Six Women of Conscience #435

07/12/2016 07:03:11 PM


Six Women of Conscience #435

Isn't it interesting how within Jewish tradition, Moses is recognized as our greatest leader. But how did he really get there?
Without our tradition, Moses is known as Moshe Rabennu (Our Teacher). He was a prophet, who Midrash (rabbinical legend) tells us was God's favorite.

How ironic that, as we begin this week reading the second book of the Torah, the Book of Exodus (Shmot), it is clear that Moses in his early years wanted nothing to do with leadership. He was slow of tongue, and when God initially approaches him at the burning bush, he doesn't seem interested.
More accurately, when we closely examine this week's Parashah, which launches the Passover story, it becomes clear that it is not so much Moses who deserves our praise, but six remarkable women who raised, protected and supported him.
Within them, there is no Moses.
Early in his life, he loses control and kills an Egyptian slave master for abusing an Israelite -- even though as Pharaoh's stepson he could have pursued legal recourse. During his initial tenure as the Israelites' leader, Moses appears tentative, reluctant and uncertain. Surely, not the characteristics readily associated with great leaders.
But let us contrast those behaviors with the sharp and focused acts of six women mentioned in this week's Parashah.   You can't help but look at the Passover story and the history of the Jewish people and conclude that:  Passover, and the subsequent rise of Moses and the Children of Israel would not have been possible without the strength and determination of six women.
Let's begin with Moses' mother, Yochevet. It was Yochevet, at the height of Egyptian persecution, who decided to risk bearing a third child, Moses.
Tradition tells us that rather than succumb to the Egyptian edict which forbad Israelites from raising male children, Jewish women went unto the fields during "lunch hour" and initiated additional activity with their husbands.
Yochevet bore Moses and hid him for three months. She placed Moses in a basket on the Nile where eventually he was rescued. 
Without Yochevet's bravery and resolve, there would have been no Moses.
We also remember Puah and Shifrah, the midwives who defied the Pharaoh's edict. The Torah tells us that "they did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do: they let the boys live." (Exodus 1:17). 
We are not sure whether Puah and Shifrah were Jewish or Egyptian; it doesn't matter.  But through the civil disobedience of Puah and Shifrah, and Egypt's midwives, Moses and many other Israelite boys survived.
History is rife with murderers who claimed they were "just following orders."  Shifrah and Puah entirely rejected this path. Without them, there would have been no Moses. 
We also remember Miriam, Moses' sister.  It was Miriam who kept watch over her baby brother as his basket floated down the river, and Miriam who suggested to Pharaoh's daughter that she take Moses into the royal court.
It was Miriam who convinced Yochevet to bare Moses in the first place. She challenged her hesitant Mom by saying, that while Pharaoh's decree "affects only the boys, yours affects all." Yochevet was swayed, and conceived with her husband Amram. 
Without Miriam, there would have been no Moses.
We also remember Pharaoh's daughter, Batya  (God's daughter). Tradition tells us that eventually Batya  "exited" with the Israelites upon their liberation from Egypt.  Batya raised Moses in safety, and named him Mohse --"drawn out"-- "because I drew him out of the water." (Exodus 2:10). 
Without Batya, there would have been no Moses.
Moses' wife Tziporah is another courageous woman mentioned in this week's Torah portion. She was the daughter of Jethro, a Midianite priest who chose to become involved in Moses' mission and with the plight of the Israelite nation. 
Her husband worked long hours. He was burdened with the pressures of leadership. Moses devoted so much time to sustaining and appeasing the Israelites that eventually their home life and marriage collapsed. Indeed, when God became angry with Moses over his lack of confidence in the future, it was Tziporah who circumcised the couples' son, Gershom. And God was appeased.
Indeed, during Moses' early years, Tziporah sensed the importance of her husband's mission. Without Tziporah, there would have been no Moses.
How interesting it is that within organized religion, often guided and interpreted by men, so many influential and courageous women have been relegated to the sidelines. But a closer inspection of virtually every biblical story reveals that women such as Yochevet, Puah, Shifrah, Miriam, Batya and Tziporah play significant roles in shaping Jewish history.
As we begin our Biblical journey through Passover, let us pause not only to acknowledge Moses and the phenomenal impact he had on the Jewish people, but also those who helped shape his story -- who made his life and leadership possible.
Let us remember that Moses' rise to greatness was gradual, and was nurtured, guided, and sustained by women, women who must be acknowledged as true heroes in the Exodus. They refused to be intimidated by power, limited by nationality or discouraged by circumstance. They stood up to injustice, displayed courage and demonstrated civil disobedience.
For indeed without them, there would have been no Moses, no Exodus, no Ten Commandments, and no Israel.
In a world where it seems these days there are more bystanders, than upstanders, let their courage and their sense of conscience continue to inspire us.
Let the names Yochevet, Puah, Shifrah, Miriam, Batya and Tziporah always be for a blessing.
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv,
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780