02 Jan 2018

Tuesday Morning Torah – January 2, 2018

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Lessons From Shifra and Puah
Have you ever heard of Shifra and Puah? These two Hebrew midwives are the first example of civil disobedience in the Torah. These are the brave women who stood up to the Egyptian Pharaoh (an act that most certainly risked their lives) and defied his direct orders to kill all of the males born to Israelite women.
The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl let her live. The midwives, faring God, did not do as the king of Egypt told them; they let the boys live. Exodus 1:15-17
 
Professor Nahum Sarna notes that while we know the names of these two midwives, the Torah never tells us the names of the reigning pharaohs at the time.  Reminding us that “in the biblical scale of values these lowly champions of morality assume far greater historic importance than do the all-powerful tyrants who ruled Egypt.” Indeed our rabbis claim that the entire redemption of the people Israel was not due to Moses and Aaron alone, but rather to these righteous women and the righteous women of that generation (Sotah 11b). As one Haggadah explains it:
 
Pharaoh’s fatal mistake was his underestimation of the women. When the midwives…refused to set expediency above conscience and refused to collaborate in the annihilation of their charges, the Israelite “resistance movement” was born.  Despite the knowledge that they might be brutally bereft of their infants, the women of Israel continued to give birth, continued to bring sustenance and strength, courage and consolation to their disheartened husbands.  Behind Moses, hero of the Exodus, stood heroic women: Yokheved, his mother; Miriam, who watched over her baby brother and contrived to have their mother appointed his nurse.  And, in the greatest irony of them all, an Egyptian princess, Pharaoh’s own daughter, drew Moses from the Nile…and became the instrument of Israel’s redemption. (The Feast of Freedom Haggadah edited by Rachel Anne Rabinowicz)
 
From the more recent #metoo movement, to the political women’s marches around the world nearly one year ago- 2017 was certainly a year in which women’s voices were heard in important ways in our society. As a community that believes in Egalitarianism, and has worked to level the religious playing field when it comes to the opportunities that both men and women have in Jewish practice, we should take a moment to celebrate those women in our lives and in our society, from Shifra and Puah through today, who have taught us what it means to stand up and make a difference.
 
1. What women have stood up and stood out to be an inspiration to your in your life?
2. More importantly, what are you doing today, to ensure that their legacy lives on through your actions?
 
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