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Parshat Shmot

"Rabbi Akiva taught: Israel was redeemed from Egypt through the merit of the righteous women of that generation. When they went to draw water Hakadosh Baruch Hu prepared for them small fish in their pitchers. They would draw out half water and half fish, and set two pots on the fire, one of hot water and one of fish, and take them out to their husbands in the fields, and wash and anoint them, give them to eat and drink, and have relations with them between the boundaries (=between the borders of the fields, in places of modesty – Rashi)" (Sotah 11b).

Natural and pure faith is a prominent characteristic of women. This straightforward faith has aided Israel in difficult times, as faith implies the attachment of all life forces to Hakadosh Baruch Hu; the attachment of life's single and original foundation to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. This is the meaning of the blessing pronounced by women every day, "Who made me as He wished," meaning that woman is directly linked to the plain and lofty Divine will (based on Olat Re'iyah).
 
The connection between man and woman participates in a Divine holiness, as it reveals the Shechina in our mundane world. "Man and woman – if they are worthy, the Shechina resides between them." The Maharal explains (Chidushei Aggadot, Sotah): "The name Ish [man] contains the letter yud, while Isha [woman] has the letter heh. Together these two letters spell out a name of Hashem [kah]. From this you see that when they are connected in complete unity they possess a measure of Divine sanctity." It is the women who arouse their husbands and they cause the appearance of the Shechina in the world, in merit of which Israel was redeemed. The Gemara in Sotah comments on the pasuk, "And the midwives feared G-d, and they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded to them etc": "Said Rabbi Yossi bar Rabbi Chanina, This teaches that he approached them for a sinful matter [i.e. intercourse] but they rejected the approach (="to them" implies marital relations, as in the wording "he came to her" – Rashi)." This midrash is surprising - why would he approach them for a sinful matter? What is the connection between Paro's goal of killing the male babies and this sin? It can be explained that Paro, through his inner intuition, understood that as long as the pure and holy connection between man and woman in Israel continued he would not be able to destroy them. This holiness is stronger than all material limitations, and defeats them. He had already understood that "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread," and therefore he tries to damage the Israelite family purity through the seduction of women. The Israelite women, who are naturally and internally attached to G-d, will not be seduced ("they rejected the approach," in the words of the Gemara). Paro was in a position to force them, and the women would not have been able to oppose him. But Paro understood that in order to distance them from their husbands in the internal sense they must be seduced and to want to have relations with Paro. Yet the women stood firm in their righteousness and purity.
 
Paro, an all-powerful leader who could do whatever he wanted, calls "to the Hebrew midwives, the name of one of whom was Sifra, while the name of the other was Pu'ah. And he said: When you help the Hebrew women give birth, you must look at the birthstool: If it is a boy, you shall kill him, but if it is a girl, you may let her live." Yet these "weak" women proudly stand up to his decrees – "And the midwives feared G-d, and they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded to them, but they kept the babies alive" (Shemot i, 15-17).

Chazal explain (Midrash Rabbah 1:15): "'And the midwives feared' – they decorated themselves with the actions of their ancestor. This is Avraham, as Hakadosh Baruch Hu testifies about them, 'now I know that you fear G-d.' They said: Avraham our father, alav hashalom, opened an inn and would feed the uncircumcised passers–by. Are we not only going to deprive them of food, but to kill them as well? We shall keep them alive." Chazal connect the actions of the midwives to those of Avraham because of the common expression "feared-fear". Yet this pasuk was said to Avraham after his tenth test, that of the Akeidah whereas the midrash links Avraham's fear of G-d to the inn he established. It can be suggested that one might mistakenly think that fear of Heaven entails a rejection of life. Avraham binds Yitzchak and wants to slaughter him or at least extract from him a little blood, yet the angel of Hashem calls to him and says, "…do not stretch forth your hand to the lad and do not do a thing to him…" (Beraishit xxii, 12). The midwives, however, through their natural and overall viewpoint, understand that the fear of Heaven involves an increase of life, and they therefore connect Avraham's "title," the "fear of G-d," to the inn in which Avraham fed the passers-by. This viewpoint is undoubtedly suited to the righteous women of that generation. It is an approach that stems from an attachment to life's own sources, and with women this viewpoint is a natural and intuitive one.
 
The midwives, whose names are given as Shifra and Pu'ah, are Yocheved and Miriam (according to one opinion in Chazal). Hakadosh Baruch Hu rewards the midwives: "…And He made for them houses" (i, 51). "Houses of priesthood, Levitehood, and kingship, which are called houses as it states, 'And he built the house of Hashem and the house of the king' (Melachim I, ix); priesthood and Levitehood from Yocheved, and kingship from Miriam" (Rashi, based on the Gemara in Sotah). Why does Miriam merit kingship? The function of the king is to lead the entire people after him to follow the nation's Divine purpose. The king causes the nation to fulfill its true function. Miriam influenced the entire nation, as the Gemara in Sotah states (12a): "We have learnt: Amram was one of the great men of his generation. When the wicked Paro decreed, 'Every male born, you shall toss into the river…,' he said, We are toiling for naught. He went and divorced his wife, and everyone [in turn] divorced their wives. His daughter said to him – Father! Your decree is harsher than Paro's…he went and remarried his wife. Everyone [in turn] went and remarried their wives." Miriam faith was particularly influential for other women: when they left Egypt they took drums with them, as "the righteous women of that generation were convinced that Hakadosh Baruch Hu would perform miracles for them" (Rashi, xv, 20). Following the splitting of the Red Sea, Miriam takes the drum and leads all the women after her and they go out with drums and dancing. Miriam is able to raise up both men and women to complete lives, through true belief in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and therefore she is worthy that kingship should descend from her. The same natural feminine characteristic caused women to go out dancing after the splitting of the Red Sea. This is an authentic eruption of joy and gratitude to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We do not find that the men danced at the Red Sea. The kingship must express this quality as well, and we do indeed see this by David. When David brings up the Ark of Hashem from the house of Oved Edom it states, "And David was skipping with all his strength before Hashem" (Shmuel Bet vi, 14). He dances and is happy because the service of Hashem must be performed with of life's forces, not merely through intelligence and understanding (as we find with Miriam and the other women at the splitting of the sea). Through this, David is expressing the manner in which he is unifying all the life forces of the Israelite nation, both those of its men and its women, and therefore he is worthy of being king. It is in fact a woman – Michal, daughter of Shaul – who protests: "…and she said: How dignified was the king of Israel today, who revealed himself today before the eyes of maidservants and servants as an empty person surely reveals himself!" (20). It is not coincidence that it is stated regarding her: "And Michal, daughter of Shaul, did not have a child until the day of her death" (23). When Michal loses her natural femininity she has no more children.
 
On two additional occasions we encounter the foundations of kingship and in both cases women are dominant. The birth of Peretz stems from Tamar's desire to have children from Yehudah (see Rashi, Beraishit xxxviii, 14). When Yehudah recognizes his seal, cloak and staff, he declares: "She was more righteous than I…" (26). Chazal explain: "A Bat Kol came forth and said: It is from I and through Me that these matters worked out. Since she was modest in her father-in-law's house I decreed that kings would be descended from her, while I decreed that kings of Israel should be established from the tribe of Yehudah" (Rashi, ibid). Tamar expresses pure and modest femininity. Yet alongside this she does not sit back passively but rather acts with determination in order to establish the kingship in Israel. This is a healthy feeling that causes her to perform an apparently reprehensible act. Her deep desire to have children through Yehudah notwithstanding, had Yehudah not confessed Tamar would have been burned and all her efforts would have gone to waste. But this is the way of women of Israel – it is never a matter of personal ambition but rather an intention which is pure and all-encompassing. Thus, if Tamar has to embarrass Yehudah she remains silent.
 
The second occasion in which we find feminine dominance is by Rut and Boaz. Rut fixes herself to Boaz's portion of the field, and it is she who with "brazenness" and arrogance approaches Boaz – "And she came stealthily, and she uncovered his feet and lay down" (Rut iii, 7). Boaz is shocked when he discovers her: "And it came to pass at midnight that the man was startled and turned himself, and behold there was a woman lying at his feet" (8). It is no coincidence that it is feminine faith and determination that precedes the appearance of kingship. Thus it states in the Book of Rut: "And the neighbors gave him a name, saying: A son has been born to Noami. And they called his name Oved, he is the father of Yishai, the father of David" (iv, 17).
 
The pasuk links the birth of Oved, son of Rut, with David, King of Israel. Scripture immediately continues by listing David's lineage from Peretz onwards: "And these are the generations of Peretz: Peretz fathered Chetzron…" (18). In light of our approach, these matters are very clear. Peretz and Oved are directly connected (Yehudah is not mentioned here). In both of them the natural Israelite strength in its plain (not "simple," G-d forbid) form is active, advancing the appearance of the kingship. Be'ezrat Hashem, we will merit in our days as well to connect and unify the various Israelite strengths, and through this David, King of Israel, will make his appearance.

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