Unsung Women HeroinesStory by Ellen Ruth Topol. (Painting of “Miriam at the Sea of Reeds” by Tami Diane Baireuther.)
These days we are often told that women hold up half the sky. To acknowledge this sentiment, on March 8, 2013, at Temple Beth-El of City Island, Rabbi Shohama led a service honoring the unsung women heroines of the Bible, focusing on the Passover narrative.
Many of us have read the Passover story in the Bible and have seen Charlton Heston play Moses, larger than life, in the film “The Ten Commandments.” Rabbi Shohama reminded us that there would have been no Moses if his mother, Yocheved, and his sister, Miriam, had not placed him in the river where the Egyptian princess, Batya, discovered him and brought him to the palace, where he received an excellent education.
Indeed, Moses would not have lived if the midwives, Shifra and Puah, had not told the pharaoh that they were unable to kill the first-born male Hebrew children, as he had directed. They cleverly made up a tale by telling the pharaoh that they could not carry out the directive since the Hebrew women gave birth so quickly that the child was born before the midwives arrived. The pharaoh believed them, and those first-born male children were saved.
So not only did Shifra and Puah save these first-born male children from certain death, but they also saved Moses, who brought us the “Ten Commandments” and led us to the Five Books of Moses. Therefore, we owe these four women — Yocheved, Miriam, Shifra and Puah — a debt. Indeed, they are in their own ways the shoulders on which the Jewish tradition survived and flourished. These women used imagination to outsmart the restrictions placed on them.
So during the service, called HERstory of the Passover: Unsung Women HERoines, we as a community gained a new appreciation of women’s place in and contribution to the Passover story.