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April 1, 2014
There is a saying in the Talmud that it is because of the merit of the women of the Exodus story that Israel is redeemed from Egypt. The women of Passover that this refers to are: Yocheved, Mother of Moses; Miriam, sister of Moses; Shifra and Puah, the midwives; Tziporah, Mose’s Midianite wife; and Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter.
Yocheved, the next woman mentioned, is clearly a member of the tribe of Israelites. She goes to extreme measures to save her son by putting him in an ark and sending him off down the river with Miriam, his sister, to stand guard. Miriam we get to know through her many acts of leadership, prophecy and song. Yet Yocheved and Miriam, in this context, must be acknowledged for their faith and hope they put in whomever finds Moses. It wasn’t going to be an Israelite family who could save him. They had to depend on the goodness of their non-Israelite “neighbors.”
Not only does Batya reach beyond her self, her family, her attendants and her upbringing, but she also stretches beyond her comfort level to become something new—a mother. She adopts and welcomes a child of another background. She opens her heart to raise a child of another faith in her home. She then turns to Miriam to ask her to find him a wet nurse. She knowingly stays engaged with his family of origin. She is a model of welcoming and outreach and the tradition is that when we welcome others by adoption or just hospitality, she blesses us.
So here we have six women who are crucial to the saving of the Israelites, yet not all were Jewish themselves! With the exception of Yocheved and Miriam, and assuming the midwives were possibly Egyptians, the Israelites are dependent on a larger context beyond the tribes. Clearly we claim these non-Israelite women as our heroines. Clearly they are part of our story, and clearly they are significant characters in our transformation from slavery to freedom. Then, as today, the survival and health of the Jewish people is not always in our own hands. As we move forward with these stories as our guide and the reality of the many interfaith partners we are embracing along the way, we must appreciate their efforts this Passover season in the ongoing story of liberation and transformation of the Jewish people.
9 Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 2, p. 295, 308