לרפואת דניאלה צילה בת אסתר
Parashat “shmot” is the parasha of the women.
Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Israeli people were redeemed from Egypt. (Bavli Sotah 11b).
Our sages teach us that it was the women who made all the difference during those hard times of slavery in Egypt. I would like to show how this idea becomes clear from our Parasha.
In the first chapter of our Parasha, Pharaoh orders the midwives of the Hebrews to kill all the newborn males. Logically these midwives were Egyptian woman as Pharaoh could not expect anyone to kill their own. Additionally, only Egyptian women could give (and expect Pharaoh to accept) the false racist excuse that the Hebrew women are like animals and give birth without aid. This explanation does contradict the Midrash, but is supported by Abarbanel, Ibn Ezra, Sforno and Kli Yakar.
The act of the midwives shines as a beacon in a dark night and I believe that this is the first appearance of the “Righteous among the Nations”, a term used to denote how the state of Israel honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews, even at a risk to their own lives.
The second chapter opens with Yocheved hiding her newborn son, in the hopes of saving him from Pharaoh’s decree that every newborn male is to be cast into the Nile. When she can’t hide him any longer – it is her older daughter Miriam who watches over the basket from a hiding place.
The basket is found by chance by Pharaoh’s own daughter. She quickly realizes that this is an Israeli baby – ordered to be killed by any Egyptian who finds him. Similar to the midwives, she too chooses to take the risk and save the baby – in contradiction to her own father’s decree. Miriam proves cunning and quick-thinking by offering to “find” a midwife to nurse the baby.
In the fourth chapter Moshe is once again in mortal danger. Moshe is on a mission to warn Pharaoh that if he does not release the people of Israel – his firstborn son will die (this warning would materialize in the last of the ten plagues). But it is at a time like this that the degree of judgment, "midat hadin", arises and checks whether Moshe is worthy compared to Pharaoh. Moshe fails that comparison since he did not circumcise his own firstborn son. Since Moshe does not die instantly, his wife Tzipora realizes that something can be done to save him. Perhaps the specific threat to Moshe’s life somehow hinted towards it, or perhaps Tzipora understood in a different way – but she quickly circumcised her son thus saving Moshe’s life.
Why did Moshe not circumcise his own son? One possible explanation is that the entire people of Israel may have forgotten about this mitzvah. It is hinted that there was a mass circumcision in Sukkoth – their first stop out of Egypt. Another option is that Moshe himself was raised away from his people and didn’t know about the mitzvah or the specifics of carrying it out. But how did Tzipora, who was not even Israeli, know how to circumcise her son? The answer is quite surprising: Tzipora is a Midianite, and Midian himself was circumcised when he was 8 days old! Midian is one of the children of Avraham from his third wife Ketura. Just as the descendants of Yishmael are all circumcised – so too are all the Midianites circumcised.
We have a total of 6 women who took risks and were able to save the life of Moshe from death. Our Parasha indeed shows us the power of the women at hard times, and it is interesting to note that most of these women were not Israeli. Even in the darkest of times we see that women find the courage to display determination, resourcefulness, inner morality and maternal intuition to see beyond the difficult present and to be concerned about the future of the people of Israel, keeping the embers of the people alive and eventually bring about their redemption.