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The Women of Yetziat Mitzrayim

By: Tami Liebman, West Hempstead, NY

The story of Yetziat Mitzraim has more female role models than any other story in the Torah. There are five heroines in this story: Shifra, Puah, Yocheved, Miriam, and Bat Pharaoh. In addition to these five individuals, the Gemara writes in Sotah 11b that it was specifically in the merit of the nashim tzidkaniyot, the righteous women, of that generation that the nation was able to be saved.

Shifra and Puah were midwives whom Pharaoh commanded to kill all the Jewish baby boys. The Torah says that they feared Elokim and therefore they disobeyed Pharaoh's orders, even at risk to their own lives. Some mefarshim, such as Rashi, identify Shifra and Puah as Yocheved and Miriam, while others, such as the Abarbanel, think that they were Egyptian women who were midwives to the Jews. Thus Shifra and Puah were either Jewish heroines willing to risk their lives for their beliefs and their people, or they are among the first righteous gentiles. Either way they are examples of heroic women.

Yocheved, Miriam, and Bat Pharoah all played a role in the life of Moshe and his upbringing toward becoming the Jewish leader. Yocheved gave birth to Moshe and was able to successfully hide him for three months before lovingly placing him in a basket to save his life. When he was placed in the water, his sister Miriam watched him from afar to protect him. Ironically, it was none other than the daughter of Pharaoh who took Moshe out of the water and chose to raise him as her own, despite knowing that he was a Jewish boy. Each of these women displayed a heroism of her own in nurturing and protecting this baby who would grow up to become the savior of Am Yisrael.

Besides for the above five specific heroines, the Gemara says that the women of that generation as a whole displayed an extraordinary level of commitment to Am Yisrael (Sotah 11b). The Gemara describes how after Pharoah made the decree to kill all the Jewish baby boys, the men lost hope and decided to stop procreating, but the women knew the importance of it. They would beautify themselves and go out to the fields to greet their husbands so as to ensure the nation's continuity. Miriam ultimately served as the leader of these women, and the Torah describes her leading them in a women's version of Az Yashir, as the women expressed their gratitude to Hashem for their salvation.
From what we have seen above, it is clear that women played a unique role in the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim, including Shifra, Puah, Yocheved, Miriam, Bat Pharoah, and the nashim tzidkaniyot. Thus the holiday of Pesach provides us with a plethora of strong inspiring heroines and role models from whom we can learn.