In the past several months, I’ve thought a lot about a statement that our sages made about the Exodus. They said that due to the merit of righteous women, the Israelites were redeemed.
The rabbis recognized that it was the heroism of five courageous women that led to the redemption of our people: Moses’s sister, his mother, an Egyptian princess, and two midwives. They each defied the murderous decrees of the oppressive Pharaoh. They had a choice: to go along and acquiesce or stand up and take action even at great risk to their life. They chose the latter.
Over the past nine months, I’ve felt as if the Jewish community has met a group of modern day heroines. They didn’t stand up against an evil decree, except in an existential way. But their faith and actions were so heroic that I realized that if we emulated these women, we could redeem the world.
First are the mothers of the three Israeli teens who were abducted this past summer: Racheli Frenkel, Bat-Galim Shaer, and Iris Yifrach. These three mothers of grief possessed such strong faith and inspired the Jewish community to unite in ways we had never seen before. Thousands of Jews–Hasidic, secular, and everything in between–gathered at the Kotel. Racheli Frenkel was approached by a group of children who told her that they had just offered a prayer on behalf of her son and the other two boys. She turned to them and said reassuringly, “I believe with full faith that they’ll return; but if they don’t, be strong.” “Hashem lo oved etzleinu,” she said, “God doesn’t work for us.” What humility to maintain faith in God and yet recognize in a time of desperation that the world does not revolve around us! Racheli Frenkel showed me, all of us, what deep faith looks like.
That was the summer. The winter came and we met another set of women. Bashi Twersky, Chaya Levine, Breine Goldberg, and Yakova Kupinsky were the surviving wives of the four men killed in the Har Nof synagogue massacre. These women were faced with a choice in the face of the brutal murders. They could have cried out for vengeance. They could have cursed in anger. Instead, they looked inward. They said that within the Jewish community there was so much divisiveness. The unity of the summer seemed to have been forgotten. Healing must begin from within the Jewish community, and they declared that the first shabbat after their husbands’ deaths should be devoted to “Ahavat Chinam,” unbridled love towards one another. I was inspired by their selflessness and so were others.
This Pesach, I understand better the rabbis’ insight that due to righteous women, we can redeem the world. We can redeem it if we emulate the moral courage of Miriam, Yocheved, Batia, Shifrah and Puah. We can enrich it if we draw from the deep faith of the three strong mothers whose brave sons brought out the best in us. We can improve it if we incorporate the selflessness of the four wives whose husbands won’t be at the seder this year.