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What role did the women play in the Exodus?

by Mrs. Dinka Kumer

  

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From the outset of the Jewish slavery in Egypt and through the Exodus, we see that the women played a pivotal role and acted with much self-sacrifice—often much more than the men, (but then, who’s counting...).

One of Pharaoh’s earliest and most evil decrees was the cold blooded murder of newborn Jewish boys.1 And yet, the Jewish midwives risked their own necks by not reporting the boys’ births, and thereby saved untold numbers of innocent babies.2

In fact, Moses’ very existence is in the merit of women. In light of Pharaoh’s murderous decree, little Miriam’s parents separated so as to avoid the danger of having a baby boy. Young but wise as she was, Miriam proved her parents’ decision wrong. She contended that by separating they would not have any children, including girls, thus exacerbating an already difficult situation. She successfully argued her case and her parents reunited and not long after had another baby—Moses.3 Moses’ mother saved her newborn by hiding him in a basket in the river, while Miriam stood guard. Pharaoh’s own daughter discovered the Jewish baby and decided to adopt and raise him as her own.4 Moses’ life was again saved years later, this time by his wife who rescued him from death in an unusual episode when Moses delayed circumcising his son.5 So Moses owed his life to his sister, mother, adoptive mother and wife.

Another of Pharaoh’s decrees was to give the Jewish women work which was more suited for men, and vice versa, thereby disrupted family and work norms.6 Yet despite the natural exhaustion and suffering the women endured through forced labor, the Torah credits them for the preservation of the Jewish family by adamantly continuing to have children despite the odds. After a hard day’s work they would seduce their weary husbands, ensuring the continuity of the Jewish nation.7 And while the men reached utter despair from all the hardships and lost hope for salvation8 , the women did not. So strong was the women’s faith, they prepared tambourines which they planned to play in celebration of the eventual exodus.9

Great was the women’s faith and loyalty to G-d even when reality suggested abandoning hope. We are told10 that the Egyptian redemption was in the women’s merit, and it comes as no surprise that the same is said11 regarding the future redemption, as well...May it be now!

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 1:15-16
  • 2. Exodus 1:17
  • 3. Exodus 2:1 see Rashi
  • 4. Exodus 2:2-10
  • 5. Exodus 4:24-26
  • 6. Midrash Rabbah Shmos 1:11. Talmud tractate Sotah 11:b
  • 7. Exodus 38:8 see Rashi
  • 8. Exodus 6:9
  • 9. Exodus 15:20 see Rashi
  • 10. Talmud tractate Sotah 11b
  • 11. Yalkut Shimoni Ruth chapter 4 section 247-606

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Egypt
Women & Judaism » Women's Issues

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Miriam
Older sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophetess in her own right.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.