It is not uncommon to open a history book and see a complete profile of a man. A woman, however is at best given a paragraph or a footnote and at worst, ignored completely.
The Jewish holiday of Passover starts this weekend. Though Moses is the protagonist of the story, his story would be nothing without the women around him. Given the many dangers around them, the easier thing would have been to say and do nothing. But instead, they stepped up, helping Moses to succeed and paving the way for Jewish women to do the same in their own eras.
Shifra and Puah: Shifra and Puah are the midwives who were responsible for bringing Hebrew children into the world. Brought before Pharaoh, they are told to kill every male newborn. They claim that they are unable to do this because by the time they get to the mother, the baby has already arrived.
Yocheved: Moses’s mother was facing a parent’s worst nightmare. Infant boys, when discovered by Pharaoh’s soldiers, were taken to the Nile and drowned. The only way she can save her son is to put him in a basket, send it floating down the Nile and pray that he would survive.
Bithia or Batya (sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Princess): Finding baby Moses in his basket as she washes up in the river, it is obvious that this child is of the Hebrew faith. Instead of reporting this discovery and sending him to his death, she adopts Moses and raises him as her own.
Miriam: Miriam is Yocheved’s only daughter. Not only does she watch over her baby brother, but she approaches the Princess, asking if she needs a wet nurse. That wet nurse is her mother. Years later, when Hebrews are wandering through the desert, it is Miriam who leads the former slaves via song to get to the promised land.
Tziporah: Tziporah is Moses’s wife. Though she is Midianite Princess and not of the Hebrew faith, she embraces his heritage as her own. Traveling with him back to Egypt, she encourages Moses to face his destiny and become the man who will lead his people to freedom.
Tomorrow night begins the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Most people who have some knowledge of Passover and the story of Moses.
Moses is born to Jewish slaves at a time in history when the Jewish people are enslaved in Egypt. Pharaoh is told of a prophecy that states that a newborn son of a Jewish slave will be his downfall. His soldiers are sent to kill every newborn son within the slave community to prevent this young man from reaching his destiny.
Tradition tells us that in an effort to save her son, Moses’s mother Yochoved, put her son in a basket and sets the basket adrift on the Nile. The basket is found by the Egyptian princess who takes Moses in and raises him as her own. Moses’s older sister Miriam, having followed the basket, offers the princess the services of a wet-nurse. That wet-nurse is Yochoved.
Moses grows up as a prince of Egypt. He believes that his destiny is set. But when he kills an overseer who is beating a slave nearly to death, he runs from Egypt in fear. This is the beginning of the Passover story and Moses’s journey to the man he is destined to become.
I am not that observant in my faith as some are. Like many adults, I was raised in an observant Jewish home, but I have chosen to be a little more lax in my religious observance. But there are certain traditions that I will always observe and Passover is one of them.
As a modern woman and a feminist, one of my favorite aspects of this story is the strong women who will, in each their own way, help Moses to reach his destiny. Whether it is his mother, who makes the ultimate parental sacrifice, the Egyptian princess he calls mother or his elder sister Miriam who is not going to sit idly by the wayside, this story, unlike many biblical stories have fully fleshed out, strong, capable and intelligent women. I am proud to be descended from these women.
The other aspect of this story that never fails to amaze me is the presence of hope. When all seems lost and the darkness is encroaching, sometimes all you need to pick yourself up and move forward is that little nugget of hope.