Passover, Judaism, & the women who allowed us to become

As I often do in the days before Passover, I’m thinking of the women without whom we not only wouldn’t have the Passover story, we wouldn’t have Judaism: Yocheved — Moses’ mother, who hid him; Shifra and Puah — the midwives who refused to kill the male Hebrew newborns; Miriam — Moses’ sister, who kept watch; and Pharaoh’s daughter.

The layers of bravery! Imagine the bravery that must be called upon to resist a king consumed by evil — from a young girl who had the courage to speak to that very king’s daughter when summoned, to that daughter, who could only have known the truth of the hidden baby, to the mother and the midwives who insisted on choosing life.

Yocheved was a grown Hebrew woman — the bravery of acting to save your own baby may be the least surprising, but consider it for a moment. Miriam was a Hebrew girl, her community under siege, and knowing who was bathing nearby, she stood watch anyway and spoke when power summoned her.

Shifra and Puah may have been Hebrews but we don’t know, there’s a lot of discussion and machloket (disagreement), but they’d been given a direct order by the king, and they refused it, again and again and again, no matter their relation to the community whose babies they were saving.

Pharaoh’s daughter clearly wasn’t a Hebrew; not only is she nameless, but her true role is frankly all-but ignored by the people who benefit most from her courage— us, the Jews. There’s no way the story as it’s told is anything other than a princess seeing the truth and refusing to acquiesce.

Five people — a woman on the wrong side of power, a little girl, two women working within the system, and a woman who represented that system — all chose life. They all chose to resist evil, not knowing (and in the cases of four of them, never knowing) what would come of it.

And you know what came of it? Not the Exodus. Not Torah. Not yet. First? Manslaughter.

Just as I think a lot about those five women (four women and a girl), I think a lot about how Moses got mad and killed somebody. Accidentally, sure, but tell that to the guy’s family. Moses was a murderer.

So he runs and he hides. Again. Not among reeds, not in Pharaoh’s palace with his adoptive mother, but among the Midianites, where he marries the daughter of a Midianite priest, comes to terms with who he really is, and is only then ready to hear God and the story of Exodus can unfold.

We can’t know what the outcome of our choices will be, we can only know which choices we’re willing to make. Goodness and courage are everywhere, and neither greatness nor holiness is achieved alone. And no one need be reduced to their worst, most terrible deeds. God needs us all.

Happy Passover.

This is a lightly edited version of a thread I shared on Twitter.

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Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer & comms professional. She writes a monthly column for DAME Magazine. twitter.com/emilylhauser or emilylhauser@yahoo.com