16 Jan 2020 Parshas Shemos: The Righteous Women Who Sustain Our Nation
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shemos, we open the book of Shemos once again. וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַבָּאִים, מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב, אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ – and these are the names of the Bnei Yisrael who came to Egypt, Yaakov, each man and his household came (Shemos 1:1). After listing the names of the sons of Yaakov, the Torah tells us, וַיָּמָת יוֹסֵף וְכָל-אֶחָיו, וְכֹל הַדּוֹר הַהוּא – and Yosef died, and all his brothers, and that entire generation (v.6). וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם – And the Bnei Yisrael were fruitful, and teeming, and many, and very very strong, and the land was filled with them (v.7).
And with the rise of a new king to power (v.8), the situation quickly changes for the Israelites in Egypt… With almost no warning, Egypt transforms from a galus (exile) of comfort and success to one of hatred and servitude. וַיְמָרְרוּ אֶת-חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה, בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים, וּבְכָל-עֲבֹדָה בַּשָּׂדֶה–אֵת, כָּל-עֲבֹדָתָם, אֲשֶׁר-עָבְדוּ בָהֶם, בְּפָרֶךְ – and they embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and bricks, and with all the work of the field that they worked them, with backbreaking labor (v.14).
After Pharaoh embarks on a campaign of persecution against the nation, beginning with a program of propaganda against the Jews (v.9-10), followed by a special “Jew tax” and culminating with slave labor (v.11), Pharaoh realizes his attempts to squash the nation have been unsuccessful, as they – against all odds – continue to multiply and thrive… וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ; וַיָּקֻצוּ, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – and the more they afflicted them, so they would increase and so they would burst forth, and they (the Egyptians) were disgusted before the children of Israel (v.12).
Pharaoh now adopts the final stage of persecution against the nation: infanticide. And Pharaoh commands the midwives of the Hebrews, וַיֹּאמֶר, בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן אֶת-הָעִבְרִיּוֹת, וּרְאִיתֶן, עַל-הָאָבְנָיִם: אִם-בֵּן הוּא וַהֲמִתֶּן אֹתוֹ, וְאִם-בַּת הִוא וָחָיָה – when you birth the Hebrew women, and you see on the birthing stone, if it is a son you shall kill him and if it is a daughter, she may live (v.16).
Despite the threat to their own lives, the G-d fearing midwives famously defy the command of Pharaoh and keep the babies alive. Who were these brave midwives who saved the nation? Identified in the pasuk as Shifra and Puah, Rashi tells us that they were Yocheved and Miriam (the mother and sister of Moshe, respectively) (v.15).
While the men despaired in such a terrible time, it was the women – led by the example of Yocheved and Miriam – who saved the nation (see Medrash Shemos Rabba 1:13, Sotah 12a, and Rashi to Shemos 38:8).
R’ Soloveitchik zt’l powerfully teaches, “The mother in times of crisis assumes the role of her husband’s keeper, his guardian and teacher. In the covenantal community, motherhood is a more powerful spiritual force than fatherhood. The shy, modest, reserved mother tuns into an active personality whenever critical action is called for.
“Man’s mind roams about in a world of abstraction and twisted ideas. He is at times too critical, too skeptical to realize the simple truth which brooks no interference from the over-sophisticated intellect. That is why the Torah has always portrayed the woman as the determining influence, saving the male from committing grave errors. She quite often changed the course of destiny.
“The woman is a crisis personality. In normal times, when routine decisions are reached, the man makes up his mind and the Biblical woman follows him. However, in times of upheaval and transition, when the covenantal community finds itself at crossroads and the choice of the alternative course of action is about to be made, a choice that will shape destiny – it is then that the mother steps to the fore and takes command. The greatness of the man expresses itself in everyday action, when situations lend themselves to logical analysis and discursive thinking. The greatness of the woman manifests itself at the hour of crisis, when the situation does not lend itself to piecemeal understanding but requires instead instantaneous action that flows from the very depths of a sensitive personality. שנתן הקב”ה בינה יתירה באשה יותר מבאיש – Hashem granted the woman an extra measure of intuition, more than the man (Niddah 45b)” (Family Redeemed, p.116-117).
It was this koach and emunah (fortitude and faith) of the nashim tzidkanios (righteous women) that has saved – and continues to sustain – our nation from Egypt to today
Like so many thousands of others, Mr. Shimon Tzvi (Siggy) Gestetner, who is turning 75, attended the recent Siyum Ha’Shas in MetLife Stadium, NJ, along with his young grandson, Bentzy. Aside from the impact of a grandfather and grandson celebrating the mesorah of Torah together, there is a special story behind this aging attendee – ad me’ah v’esrim shana – and his young grandson.
In 1945, Mr. Gestetner’s mother was living in a bunker in Budapest, Hungary, and she was expecting a child. When well-meaning advisers would insist that she was endangering her own life (never mind the life of the child), by carrying a child during such a time, she would reply and tell them of a picture she envisioned would be shown to her after 120 years; a picture of a Yiddishe child who might have been hers if only she had the courage and fortitude not to listen to the prophets of doom.
“I don’t want to see a picture (of the child I could have had)!” she would reply, “I want to see the child itself!” She hid away a can of sardines – precious commodity that it was – in case there would be a bris in that wretched place.
The child was born – Shimon Tzvi – and he grew up and established his own family. The night before the Siyum, his young grandson, Bentzy, learned that his grandfather wasn’t planning to attend. “Zeidy,” the child insisted, “you must come. I need you to be there with us, along with my father and brothers.”
So Zeidy – Mr. Shimon Tzvi (Siggy) Gestetner – attended with his family, creating a picture of what was, and what yet will be… (Mishpacha, Issue 793, 1.8.20, p.37).
וַתִּירֶאןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת, אֶת-הָאֱלֹקְים, וְלֹא עָשׂוּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶן מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם; וַתְּחַיֶּיןָ, אֶת-הַיְלָדִים – and the midwives revered G-d, and they did not do like the king of Egypt said to them, and they kept the boys alive (Shemos 1:17).
May the courage of the righteous women continue to sustain us through our own galus, until we merit the final redemption, immediately and in our days, amen v’amen.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,