Galut Mitzrayim — the Egyptian Exile — has come to epitomize exile in Judaism. It is the ultimate galut, the ultimate exile and it embraces all aspects of the later exiles: displacement, foreign subjugation, powerlessness, and exposure to extreme physical and mental torture.
In a parallel fashion, Yetziat Mitzrayim — the Exodus from Egypt — has come to epitomize ultimate freedom – Geulah, the Redemption.
In Jewish thought, Galut Mitzrayim and Yetziat Mitzrayim – Exile and Exodus – no longer denote merely Israel’s enslavement and liberation. They play pivotal roles, exercising a far-reaching impact on Jewish legacy and halachic system. There are very few commandments, be they purely ritual, ethical or societal that do not contain a reference to either Galut Mitzrayim or Yetziat Mitzrayim.
Moshe Rabbeinu – Moses – the hero in the drama of Exodus is the undisputed universal icon of liberation.
The call of “Let my people go!” has become a universal cry for freedom divested of its particularistic origins. I remember that in the 1960’s when I participated in demonstrations for the freedom of Soviet Jewry I carried a sign that said in Russian: Odpusti Narod Moj! (Let My People Go!)
Yetziat Mitzrayim is the watershed event in our divinely inspired and divinely directed evolution as a People. The Exodus from Egypt was the gate to Sinai, to the receiving of the Torah, and to the conquest of the Land. These are the three main pillars on which our national existence rests: the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel. And in the evolution of all three, women played a central role.
We have discussed the major role women played in the Exodus, the Hebrews’ evolution as a People. About the Giving of the Torah on Har Sinai, the second and central pillar of our national-spiritual existence, our rabbis say: “The Torah was given to the women first.” Why? “Because women have a singular capacity for understanding fundamental ideas” (Shemot Rabba, 25), and as such it is they who transmit it to the next generation. It is the women who teach their children “the ways of the Torah” (Ibid.) and ensure the spiritual survival of Israel.
What about women’s historical role concerning the Land?
The most astounding tribute to women is our Sages’ reference to women’s love of the Land. “Women did not participate in any of Israel’s sins that would have prevented them from entering the Land of Israel,” it is said. The women “did not take part in the Cheit HaEgel, the sin of the Golden Calf…and also in the case of the meraglim, the spies, the women did not conspire with them… instead, they approached and requested inheritance in the Land” (Tanhuma HaKadum, Bamidbar 21). “The virtue of women is superior to that of men; as the men said: give us a leader, and we shall return to Egypt, the women said: give us inheritance in the Land” (Sifri).
For the sake of People, Torah, Land – throughout history women played their roles on the invisible center stage. May Jewish women continue to rise to the occasion to ensure a flourishing future for all three.