The Women of Egypt and the Desert

16 01 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

The Women of Egypt and the Desert The Gemara and the Midrashim call Paro’s daughter, Batya, meaning the daughter of Hashem. The yud and the heh at the end of her name spell the name of Hashem. With this name, He reveals Himself as above all reality but still within this world.

What inspired her to extend her hand when the basket holding baby Moshe was clearly beyond her reach? She couldn’t bear to see his suffering. She is an example of someone who exerted super human efforts and was helped from above. We learn from this episode that if we try our best, we often receive far more than anticipated.

Miriam was the leader of the Jewish women. Rashi says she taught the women Torah just as Moshe taught the men. Women have a different way of understanding and grasping Torah, hence they needed a woman to teach them. In the Zohar it says that parallel to the heavenly Torah academy for men, women will learn Torah from Miriam and Batya.

Miriam had enormous spiritual depth and vision. She waged battle against evil, which is what her name connotes. When she left Egypt there was so little time, yet she made sure to pack her instruments. Her faith was so strong that she was sure they would need it.

Tzipora was Moshe’s wife. Tzipora means a bird. Her nature was to soar above the mundane. She was the perfect wife for Moshe. They were both people of great spiritual transcendence similar to each other and dissimilar to other people. Moshe elevated himself to the point that he was in a state of continued readiness to receive prophecy. He had to separate from his wife.

Miriam couldn’t understand this because her level of prophecy was different than his. The conclusion Miriam reached wasn’t that Moshe’s prophecy was unique, but that there was something inherently lacking in his relationship. Consequently, she was stricken with tzaraat, a skin illness. Skin, the largest organ of the body, creates a separation between one person and another. When a person sees another in a diminished way, he becomes in a certain sense lifeless or unimportant.

Although Miriam clearly meant what she said for Moshe’s benefit, she was punished severely. Tzaddikim are penalized for infractions as fine as a single hair. Tzadikim desire closeness and an intense relationship with Hashem that isn’t blocked by any faults. Suffering purifies their flaws.

In the desert narrative, we read about Korach’s wife. Korach had enormous potential. He could have been the Levi Gadol. The Levites had to go through a unique ritual which involved shaving off all their body hair in order to give them a feeling of being one unit. Korach’s wife told her husband, “You’re a nobody, you’re just a number, there’s no difference between you and the next Levi. Look how Moshe turned you into nothing. He did it to keep his own position. Why are you putting up with this?” She egged him on which ultimately led to their doom.

In marriage, a husband provides and the wife must take what he gives and turn it into something greater. When the wife sees her husband trying to provide, she feels beloved. When he sees his will actualized in the highest sense, he feels respected. This is how a marriage grows. Korach’s wife corrupted her husband’s desire to be something. She is the epitome of an evil wife.

In contrast, On ben Pelet’s wife didn’t argue with her husband. She didn’t disparage his dreams and desires. Instead she said, “Either way, whether Moshe or Korach leads, you won’t come out on top anyway.” It was clear to him that his wife was acting with his best interests in mind. He went inside the tent and she sat in the doorway blocking the entrance. That is how she saved him.

Man is compared to dough. The soul is water and the body is flour. The body is the wife of the soul. Our yearning self which is called ruach is meant to rule the nefesh, the part of us that’s connected to this world. A good body takes what the soul offers, builds with it, and turn it into something. The soul says, “I want connection.” The body actualizes it by performing mitzvot. The body is meant to uplift the soul, to give it credence and credibility, not to disparage it.

We’ve looked at three paradigms of great women. The woman who is known for what her husband becomes, the woman who is known for what her children become, and the woman who is known for what she herself becomes.

The influence of careerism is touching the observant community. In today’s society, self-actualization is idealized. It’s wrong to say, “Who I am to my family has nothing to do with my true self.” From the Torah’s perspective, these three women are in fact one. Your imprint, who you are, shines through in how you succeed in affecting others.




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