Honoring the Women of the Passover Seder
Posted on Feb 22, 2023
As Passover approaches, our family likes to look at different ways to add new dimensions to our Seders. Now we have four granddaughters who celebrate with us. They know we drink four cups of juice at a special dinner where we tell a story from a book. Our hope is that they will carry on the tradition of creating and preparing Seders for their families. Passover (Pesah) is my most favorite Jewish holiday and I go at it with gusto.
Four is a significant number in the Seder and in our family in 5783. This year, I am trying something new. I am going to designate each cup of wine for a strong and courageous (Chazak v’Ematz) biblical woman of the Passover story.
Rishe Groner’s 2018 article “The Badass Biblical Women of Passover” brings to light inspirational women of the Passover story.
She writes of the midwives, Shifra and Puah. They defied the Pharoah’s orders to kill the Israelite baby boys. They saved a nation.
Next, Yocheved, the “resourceful” mother of Moses. According to Rishe, ”Yocheved was not only the first of the Children of Israel born in Egypt, she was the magic key to getting them out again, this time by defying Egyptian authorities and hiding her newborn son in a basket she slipped into the Nile River.” Not all the strong and courageous women of our story were Israelites.
Batya, daughter of Pharoah, found the newborn as she went to bathe in the Nile. With the assistance of Miriam, Moses’s big sister, she adopted the baby and hired the baby’s mother as a wetnurse. She would raise this baby as her son “no matter what the Egyptian priests, astrologers, and her dad, the king, said. Sometimes it is our compassion that wins out over everything else,” Rishe relates.
Tzipporah, the Midianite priestess, is the superstar wife of Moses. Returning to Egypt with his Tzipporah and their two sons, they stop at an encampment for the night where Moses encounters the Angel of Death. Tzipporah takes a flint and slices off her son’s foreskin. She says, “You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!” The Angel of Death releases Moses, and Tzipporah adds, “A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.”
Four special women to pair with four cups of grape juice so that our granddaughters will understand the true meaning of Chazak v’Ematz.
But wait, what about Miriam, Moses’s sister? Rishe wrote this beautiful description. “There’s no image of the Exodus I like better than the circles of Israelite women dancing on the edge of the Red Sea, having crossed on dry land. The Torah states, ‘And Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed after singing.’ Miriam was a little girl of five last we checked on her, and now she’s grown up to be a leader of women, dancing and singing in gratitude and praise.”
How did they get the timbrels “when they were previously in a land hostile to their traditions and celebrations?” Nobody spends hours of drum-crafting without an intention to use the magical instrument. Miriam and the women had a plan, and that plan involved redemption. When they danced and embodied the joy of liberation, they also celebrated the faith they had, the knowledge that a world of freedom existed just on the other end of the dark scary sea, and it was possible if only they created the tools to use on the other side.
Miriam is for many the champion of the Exodus story. She’s the paradigm-shifter, the bringer of hope, the visionary. Because if we can truly visualize and believe the freedom that is waiting for us on the other end, wouldn’t we do everything we can to make sure we are properly equipped for the other side? We have a special, additional cup to recognize Miriam’s strength and courage as a child, as a prophet, and as the bearer of water so necessary for survival in the wilderness.
May all of us, granddaughters, mothers, sisters, grandmothers, emulate the women of Passover who embody Chazak v’Ematz! Hag Pesah Sameah.