In most homes, as women prepare to join the Seder (hopefully, somewhat rested), the anticipatory anxiety associated with the “P” word (pre-Pesach angst) is no longer. The cleaning, preparations, shopping and cooking are now a thing of the past. And finally, the Hagaddah’s legacy of yetzias Mitzrayim (exodus from Egypt) takes front stage.
When we think about the Israelite women in Egypt, the one phrase that stands out is quoted by the Talmud: “B’schar nashim tzidkoniyos shehayu b’oso hador nigalu Yisrael m’Mitzrayim — In the merit of the righteous women who were in that generation, Israel was redeemed from Egypt (Sotah 11b).” This expression reflects their character traits, devotion and commitment to Hashem and their people. The bottom line, it is about the choices they made.
What specific choices were thrust upon these women? And in what areas did they exemplify their righteousness?
According to the commentaries, one of the ways the Egyptians attempted to control the fertility rate of the Jewish people was to remove the men from their homes and house them in the fields. Their obvious reason was a fiscally rational one: Minimize the travel time for the slaves and you’ve created a longer workday. A secondary result, however, was that husbands and wives were not spending time together. To the women this was unacceptable. So, late at night, they risked their lives to go out to the fields and be with their husbands. And when Hashem saw their good intentions, He began to help them in small ways. When they drew water from the well, Hashem caused fish to breed in the cisterns. The women brought two pots to the field, one for cooking the fish and one for washing their husbands. While tending to their husbands, they spoke gently with inspiring words and offered strength and hope: “We won’t be slaves forever; we have Hashem’s promise.” Their encouraging words were backed by a purpose of the highest caliber. They chose to build the nation at this challenging juncture, in spite of their physical fatigue and emotional despair.
Then there were Yocheved and her daughter, Miriam (heads of the midwives guild), who were instructed by Pharaoh to kill the male babies even before they were born. Not only did they disobey the command, they further risked their lives by providing care for some of the babies and their families. And although Pharaoh was enraged by their disobedience and wanted revenge, Hashem intervened and they stayed safe.
A logical question begs asking: From what source did these women draw their strength to make such choices?
The Me’am Loez offers this explanation: “Vatirenah hameyaldos es ha-Elokim — The midwives feared G-d (Shemos 1:17).” Yocheved and Miriam risked their lives to save the unborn children, although halacha did not obligate them to. The choice they made was l’fnim meshuras hadin (beyond the requirement of the law). And that inner strength came from emulating the actions of their ancestor, Avraham Avinu. When Hashem instructed Avraham to bring his son, Yitzchak, as a sacrifice, Avraham did not question Hashem’s command; nor did he request clarification. He carried out Hashem’s will out of love and reached the pinnacle of his spirituality. And that inner strength for self-sacrifice became embedded in our spiritual DNA as a gift and as a legacy. It is that which allowed Yocheved and Miriam to stand up to Pharaoh, and it is that which potentially strengthens us to make choices that may, at times, seem daunting.
I wonder…While Pharaoh’s approach reflected an external threat to the nation, in preparing for the Seder, maybe one of our goals is to stand up to a different type of danger. I refer to an internal threat that sometimes hinders our family relationships: the words we speak and the choices we make.
Parents, who are disappointed or frustrated with their teenager’s behavior, dress or lifestyle choices, may come to the Seder harboring ill feelings toward that particular child. And when criticism, put downs, yelling and other negative behaviors become the focus, the purpose of the night often becomes compromised and so does the relationship.
We recite a passage in the Haggadah inviting strangers who are hungry to join us in eating (“kol dichfin yesei v’yechol”). Perhaps we can extend the meaning of the paragraph by viewing the child in his current lifestyle as a “stranger” to his family’s values. We can then choose to invite him into our hearts – with love, compassion and acceptance. Perhaps then the stranger within him may diminish its hold on his neshama.
To my readership, May Hashem give strength to you where it is needed, and may you enjoy a Chag Kosher V’sameach.
Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.