Thursday, December 15, 2016

The ideal woman: The righteous women of Egypt - Why the Jews were redeemed from Egypt

In trying to understand the Torah views of what the ideal woman is, one critical source is what woman have been praised for by our Sages. So far I have presented sources clearly stating that the ideal woman is one who helps her husband to reach spiritual perfection. Someone who is obedient and subordinate and takes care of the material aspects of life so her husband can devote himself to spiritual activities.

But their is another aspect where women - while being helpers - initialed actions that apparently the men were not able to or didn't want to do. This gemora presents women as being proactive - and not passive responders under the direction of their husband. In fact the men seem to be passive players under the direction of their wives. The women are specifically described as the reason for the Redemption from Egypt. I am not aware of any source that says the Redemption took place because of the actions of the men. In fact our sages say that 80% of the men died in Egypt because they weren't deserving of being redeemed. Thus at the beginning of the Jewish people - the most critical act - the Redemption from Egypt - was brought about through the women and not the men. This gemora is discussed by the Maharal (Gevuras HaShem 43). So far from degrading women, we see that the women are praised, while apparently the men contributed nothing and are not praised!

The following is Sotah (11b):  R. Awira expounded: As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt. When they went to draw water, the Holy One, blessed be He, arranged that small fishes should enter their pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half full of fishes. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had intercourse with them among the sheepfolds, as it is said: When ye lie among the sheepfolds etc.4 As the reward for ‘ When ye lie among the sheepfolds’, the Israelites merited the spoliation of the Egyptians, as it is said: As the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her pinions with yellow gold.5 After the women had conceived they returned to their homes; and when the time of childbirth arrived, they went and were delivered in the field beneath the apple-tree, as it is said: Under the apple-tree I caused thee to come forth [from thy mother's womb] etc.6 The Holy One, blessed be He, sent down someone from the high heavens who washed and straightened the limbs [of the babes] in the same manner that a midwife straightens the limbs of a child; as it is said: And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee.7 He also provided for them two cakes, one of oil and one of honey, as it is said: And He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil etc.8 When the Egyptians noticed them, they went to kill them; but a miracle occurred on their behalf so that they were swallowed in the ground, and [the Egyptians] brought oxen and ploughed over them, as it is said: The ploughers ploughed upon my back.9 After they had departed, [the Israelite women with their babes] broke through [the earth] and came forth like the herbage of the field, as it is said: I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field;10 and when [the babes] had grown up, they came in flocks to their homes, as it is said: And thou didst increase and wax great and didst come with ornaments11 — read not with ornaments [ba'adi ‘adayim] but in flocks [be'edre ‘adarim]. At the time the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself by the Red Sea, they recognised Him first, as it is said: This is my God and I will praise Him.

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