The Lesson of Shmos: Don't Underestimate a Woman

This occurred to me today: a common theme in both the text and the Midrashim associated with this week's parsha is that women are the driving force that the powers that be fail to register.  The story recounts how the king of  Egypt put Yosef's accomplishments out of his mind and took a xenophobic view of the Israelites. He stirred up public opinion against them as he appointed tax collectors and then taskmasters over them, pushing them into the subjugation of slavery. Not content with that, though, he started a policy of genocide.

But the genocide was to be effected via the males only. Pharaoh ordered the midwives to only kill the baby boys, figuring the girls pose no threat and can be assimilated into Egyptian society. That is where he erred. The females were not the passive creatures he thought them to be. Even when the midwives gave some indication of that by not carrying out his order (though they claimed that the women managed to give birth on their own, denying them the opportunity to perform a partial-birth aborition) he failed to grasp that this Israelite women were a force to be reckoned with.

He extended his final solution to eliminating the Israelites via the male infants by ordering them all cast into the waters. That prompted the leader of the Israelites, Amram, to separate from his wife. But his daughter put him straight on that. The Midrash Hagadol explains:

 Miriam told her father when he divorced her mother, "Your decrees are harsher than Pharaoh’s. He decreed on the boys, and you have decreed both on the boys and girls. He is wicked so it is doubtful if his decree will hold or not, but you are a righteous man, so your decree is bound to hold. That is not all, but I have seen [through prophecy] that in the futures there will come from you the savior of Israel" Her father saw the truth of Miriam's assertion and remarried his wife. When she gave birth to Moshe and had to throw him in the Nile, her mother slapped her face and said, "Now where is your prophecy?"  Immediately, his sister stationed herself at a distance’ (Shmos 2:4).

The type of faith in redemption that Miriam demonstrated here, as she did (according to the Midrashic identification) in her role as midwife, reflected what the Israelite women were credited in doing in the description of the maros tzovos the mirrors that were then melted down to form the kiyor of the mishkan. Even when their husbands despaired, they asserted their hope for the future and continued to have the children to assure the continuity of their people. The women were the ones with the vision to see beyond the immediate state to the promise of the redemption they knew would come. And their vision remained clear even when the men's was clouded.

Though I've only included some details about Miriam here, in the past, I've looked at some of the individual women in that context who were each remarkable in their own right.  You can read more about Moshe's sister, his mother, his adopted mother, and his wife in:

For other insight into Shmos, see


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