Drash on Parashat Pesach
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, NSW
This week we celebrate both the Shabbat and the beginning of the festival of Pesach two festivals inextricably linked by the commandment to observe Shabbat in order to remember our liberation from slavery. There were so many pivotal moments during our people’s liberation from slavery which hinged on the actions of women: Israelite and Non Israelite, courageously stepping forward, doing what was right, being beacons of justice in a dark and cruel world. They were the least powerful people in their communities and this year I would like us to remember them and the ways in which their actions enabled us to be free.
The first encounter with women in the story is with the midwives, Shifra and Puah. These women stood up to the Pharaoh, the highest authority in the land and refused to follow his decree to kill the male Hebrew babies. Their resistance, even when called before the Pharaoh, is a model of strength, courage and defiance. Next came Yochevet, Moses’ mother. She made the impossible choice that so many women have faced through history, giving up her child to save his life. Placing him in a basket of reeds, hoping and praying that someone would take pity on him and give him a chance at a future which she could not provide. That future was ensured by his adoptive mother, the Pharaoh’s daughter. The Torah does not give her a name but the tradition calls her Batya, daughter of God. She knew that she was taking a Hebrew child into her heart and her home. She knew that by rescuing and raising him she was defying her father’s decree but she reached out anyway and did what was right. She saved a life, and much of the man that Moses became, the man who fought for justice for others, who was moved by the oppression of the taskmasters and who felt compassion for the slave people, was because of the influence of his mother, who she was, the values she taught him. And finally Miriam, Moses’ sister, beloved by her people, the nurturing presence, the one who celebrated freedom by leading her people in song and dance, filled with joy and gratitude. These women are each role models for us of the values of Torah, living a principled life no matter what the challenges, standing up for what you believe and creating a better world.
There are some people who add a cup of water to their Pesach tables in honour of Miriam. It is said that during the desert wanderings a well followed the people and provided them with water in honour of Miriam and her goodness. I would like us to expand upon that and see the glass of water on our seder tables as a tribute to all the women in the Pesach story, the heroines who have for too long, been pushed out of the pages of our haggadot. And to see that glass of water as the impetus to look around our communities, to see the women of our time, the unsung heroes, the people who are unacknowledged for their daily acts of heroism, just being different from the perceived norm, being true to themselves, being who they are. Slowly these people are changing the world and we are too. May we find nobody in the shadows of our communities and instead embrace everyone and, like Miriam, sing together a song to God, a song of harmony, justice and freedom.
Chag sameach and Shabbat Shalom.