Torah Fax

Friday, January 20, 2006 - 20 Tevet, 5766
Torah Reading:  Shemot  (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting Time:  4:40 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:44 PM

Obsession For Life
This week's parsha introduces us to the Jewish nation. While Genesis revolved around our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the progenitors of the Jewish nation, it is in the Book of Exodus, which we commence reading this week, that we learn of the formation of the Jewish people.
One of the remarkable things we see in this week's parsha that stands out is the pivotal role of women in the formation of the nation.
If one had to find one word that describes virtually all of the Biblical women it is "life." From Eve—whose Hebrew name Chava means life—to Esther—who saved the lives of the entire Jewish nation—women are constantly depicted as people for whom life is the highest ideal. Whether it is praying for children, nurturing life, saving lives, showing contempt for those who take the lives of others lightly, women were always in the forefront of the Jewish nation, when it came to the quest for and promotion and preservation of life.
Let us review some of the salient portions of this week's parsha as they are recorded in the Torah, as well as they are illuminated in the Oral traditions of the Torah recorded in the Talmud, Midrash and Rashi:
(a) In the very beginning, we find how Pharaoh demanded that the two midwives, Shifra and Puah (whom the Talmud says were actually Yocheved and Miriam, Moses' mother and wife respectively), were to murder all of the newborn baby boys. They not only defied his orders, but they provided the children with food and water (Rashi). This is expressed in the words: "And they gave life to the children."
(b) Later on, the Torah tells us, somewhat cryptically, about the marriage of a "man of the tribe of Levi" with the "daughter of Levi" – amarriage from which Moses was born. From other Biblical sources we know that the man was Amram and the woman was Yocheved, identified in other places as the parents of Moses.
Now, the problem that arises here is that they had already been married for some time and had already been the parents of Moses’ older sister and brother, Miriam and Aaron. Why does the Torah make it seem that they just got married?
Rashi, quoting the Talmud, provides us with the subtext, the "between the lines" details, that is part of the Oral Tradition: When Pharaoh issued his horrible decree that all the little boys should be thrown into the Nile, Amram, who occupied an exalted position of leadership, separated from his wife, reasoning that it would be futile to bring children into the world only to have them thrown into the Nile. When the populace saw how their esteemed leader was reluctant to bring children into the world they followed suit.
At that point, Miriam, their eldest child, said to her father that his action will yield even more catastrophic results than that of Pharaoh: "While Pharaoh's decree affected the males," she said to her father, "your action will affect the males as well as the females." Amram remarried his wife Yocheved, and Moses – who would ultimately save the Jewish people from bondage – was born shortly thereafter. It was thus Miriam's obsession with life thus that saved the day.
(c) When Moses' basket was placed into the Nile, Miriam waited to see what would happen. Sure enough, Bitya (or Batya) the daughter of Pharaoh (whom, our Sages say, adopted the Monotheistic faith of the Jewish people), stretched out her arm towards Moses’ basket, thereby saving his life and, by extension, that of the entire Jewish nation.
(d) When the little Moses refused to nurse from the Egyptian nurses in Pharaoh’s palace, Miriam offered to get a Jewish nursing woman—Moses' mother—to nurture her little child in Pharaoh’s palace!
Here we see the conjunction of the three women Miriam, Bitya and Yocheved in saving and nurturing the precious life of history's greatest person.
(e) Moses flees to Midian, after having killed an Egyptian taskmaster, and meets Jethro's seven daughters drawing water to feed the sheep of their father. Again, women are portrayed as people involved in nurturing life.
(f) During Moses return trip to Egypt to carry out the mission he was charged with by G‑d at the burning bush, Moses stayed in an inn with his wife and newborn, uncircumcised child. Suddenly, an angel of G‑d threatened to kill Moses, because, as Rashi teaches, Moses neglected to circumcise his son in a timely fashion. Immediately, Moses' wife Tziporah circumcised the child and saved Moses' life. Once again, a righteous woman is depicted as a life-saver.
(g) According to the Talmud, the Egyptian bondage took its heaviest toll on the men. They had been broken and had despaired of ever getting out of Egypt. They no longer wanted to continue their family life. The women however never lost their faith. They encouraged their husbands to continue having children, and they produced generations of Jews that would ultimately leave Egypt and become part of the eternal nation. In the words of the Talmud, "In the merit of the righteous women of that generation the Jews were liberated from Egypt."
It is axiomatic in Torah literature that history repeats itself, especially with regard to the parallel between the bondage and Exodus from Egypt and the Redemption from the preset exile.
Just as it was the women in the time of the Egyptian exile who were responsible for the emergence and birth of Jewish life, so too, the future Redemption will be ushered in through the faith, optimism, life-affirming attitude and efforts of the women.   
Moshiach Matters
The 22nd Psalm is said to pertain to Esther. It is called a "Psalm for the early dawn (Ayelet HaShachar)." The Talmud states that just as the dawn is the end of the night, so too was the Book of Esther the end of the miracles that were given to be put in writing. It was the beginning of the dawn that would blaze to light with the coming of the Messiah, as it is written (Isaiah 60:1), "Arise, shine, for your light has come; G‑d's glory shines upon you." (Me'am Lo'ez on the Scroll of Esther)
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