DIVREI TORAH

SHEMOS: ARE WOMEN REALLY WEAKER?

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: SHEMOS - ARE WOMEN REALLY WEAKER?

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Dedicated by the Jesion family לז"נ Mrs. Celia Jesion, Alta Sheindel bas Moshe Mordechai ז"ל

Dedicated by the Neuburger family לז"נ and for the shloshim of Mrs. Ruth Neuberger, Faila bas Yaakov ז"ל

Dedicated by the Salmon Family לז"נ Zev Yisrael Ben Avraham - Peter Salmon ז"ל             

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“In the merit of the righteous women, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.”[1]

It isn’t hard to see the basis for this Midrash.

That basis is our parsha’s sequence of stories about heroines who raised us above Egyptian slavery.

Those heroines included the - female - midwives who risked their lives by contravening Pharaoh‘s command to murder the Jewish babies.[2]

They included Moshe’s mother - his father isn’t mentioned here - who hid him and built the boat that protected him in the Nile.[3]

They included his sister, Miriam, - his brother isn’t mentioned here - who guarded him when he was in the Nile.[4]

They included his rescuer, Pharaoh’s daughter - not Pharaoh’s son - who disobeyed her father and saved baby Moshe by pulling him from the Nile.[5]

They included his wife, Tzippora, who saved Moshe from punishment for not having circumcised their son.[6]

All these heroes are women, which may explain that Gemara about: “In the merit of the righteous women, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.” [7]

This isn’t just about women’s ability to overcome adversity then.

This is also about women’s powers to overcome adversity now.

And, indeed, as per the following study, women are better adept at physical survival: "we investigated the survival of both sexes in seven populations under extreme conditions from famines, epidemics, and slavery. Women survived better than men in all populations . . . our results confirm the ubiquity of a female survival advantage even when mortality is extraordinarily high. . . research to date provides evidence for both biological and social factors influencing this gender gap . . . “[8]

These life-extending biological and social factors don’t just enable survival. They also enable better social and religious standards. Those better standards are seen in the fact that 93% of the US prison population is  male – while only 7% is female.[9] They are also seen in the endless anecdotal evidence about men flouting religious and social standards more than women.

These feminine strengths aren’t, of course, ironclad because all individuals, male and female, have their own strengths. On the whole, though, women’s greater resilience allows them to better address domestic challenges, illness and life’s other adversities.

Our Torah wants us to recognize - and to access – this frequently unacknowledged resilience which may be why it teaches us about those heroines in Egypt

Yes, our Torah assigns different roles to men and to women.

But that is not, as some think, because of feminine weakness or inadequacy.

It is rather - at least partly – because of feminine strength and resilience.

Rabbi Weber, founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey, is a rav to the young men and women at Kochvei Ohr and Ateres Bais Yaakov and is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be mara d’asra at the Hudson Valley Resort for Pesach. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000.

[1] Sotah 11b

[2] Shemos 1:15-22

[3] Shemos 2:3

[4] Shemos 2:4

[5] Shemos 2:5-10

[6] Shemos 4:24-25

[7] Sotah loc. cit.

[8] University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark: Virginia Zarulli, Julia A. Barthold Jones, Anna Oksuzyan, Rune Lindahl-Jacobsen, Kaare Christensen & James W. Vaup

[9] US Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2021

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