Righteous Women in Tanach: Dina, Miriam, and Yocheved

1 07 2012

ased on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Dina’s birth was unique because she was originally meant to be a boy. Leah realized that if she would have another son, Rachel would receive less of her share of tribes then the maidservants. Therefore, she prayed to have a girl. Dina was born with the traits of a boy. Her name comes from the root word din, judgment.

A man is meant to go out into the world. Dina was drawn to the outside. It’s not unusual for women in today’s society to say, “I admire stay-at-home mothers who dedicate themselves to their families, but home for me is boring.” This is something new. In the 50’s women were surveyed and asked, “Where is your real life, at home or at work?” They answered, “The place where I feel a true connection to people, where my aspirations are realized is at home.” They asked this same question recently and women answered, “My real life is at work where there’s achievement and validation.” As much as they love their family, home is no longer the center of their lives. Rabbi Wein often says, “Vi es kristalat zich yiddishit zich.” The outside world has an effect on us.

What did the women of old find satisfying in their role? Real connection comes through giving and true achievement doesn’t require validation. In earlier times, woman found fulfillment in nurturing their family physically and emotionally and watching them develop. Today we need external stimulation to feel this satisfaction. The prophecies about the ultimate future tell us that Hashem will turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Before the heart of flesh arrives, we will lose the ability to feel with another person, to have joy and pain, and to grow with them. We can shrug and say, “That’s how it is,” or we can try to develop this feeling. Certainly if Hashem gave us a family, He expects us to work on it. For a woman to find fulfillment exclusively through outside stimulation is viewed by Judaism as a betrayal of her femininity. We don’t have to abandon our womanhood. We can nurture it, try to understand it, and develop our inner essence through finding meaning within.

Yocheved was born between the walls just as the Jews reached Egypt. Her name is a contraction of the letters, yud and vav, and the word kavod. These are two letters of Hashem’s name. The letter yud which has a small line pointing upwards symbolizes divine wisdom. The line pointing downwards teaches us that Divine wisdom also flows towards earth. The letter vav is like a pillar. It can be a million feet tall but the top and bottom are still connected. It’s like an elongated yud that symbolizes that although Hashem is above anything we can put into words, He is still absolutely with us.

Kavod is honor. Honoring Hashem means taking him seriously and observing His creativity. The honor of Hashem is hidden in nature and in all the events that will ever take place. Hashem is the heart of the world, the mystic force that keeps things in existence. Yocheved perceived Hashem’s wisdom, connection and majesty.

She married Amram, the head of the tribe of Levi. When their daughter Miriam was five, Paro decreed that all the Jewish baby boys must be killed. Amram separated from Yocheved and from the perspective of truth it seemed the right thing to do. But Miriam said, “Father, you’re worse than Paro. Now no children will be born.” She was speaking the language of faith. Every life is precious and has a purpose. Amram listened to her and Moshe was born.

Yocheved and Miriam were also called Shifra and Puah. Shifra means one who improves or makes beautiful. She would wash and dress the babies up prettily. When people buy fancy baby clothes it’s really all about self. At best it’s silly, at worst it is vain. But with the right intentions, it is a way to celebrate the purity, goodness, and innocence of a baby. In Egypt, where life was so cheap and where babies were killed freely, this affirmation of the holiness and goodness of every child was enormously important.

Miriam’s name is the contraction of the words mar yam, (bitter sea). She was born at a time of great bitterness. There’s a difference between depression and bitterness. Despair leads to escape. “The world is too hard, I can’t handle it, I’ll remove myself by sleeping, eating, or taking drugs.” But bitterness expresses, “The situation is not acceptable the way it is. I’ll reject it and be the person I choose to be.”

The sea is a symbol of Hashem’s unknowable mystery and creativity. We can chart the oceans but we don’t know them as well as we know the land. The prophet Yeshaya said, “S’eu marom einechem u’rei mi bara eleh.” Lift up your eyes on high and see who created all this. The letters mi are the same as yam spelled backwards. The sea begs the question of who is the Creator and the answer is we don’t know Him. The numerical value of yam is fifty. There are fifty gates of wisdom and fifty gates of defilement. The gate of knowledge of Hashem comes through passing tests and becoming more intuitively aware of who He is. Miriam, the one born to bitterness, passed through the sea of unknowable reality and confronted her tests with faith and fortitude.

Miriam and Yocheved were the archetypes of the faithful women of Egypt who courageously maintained life and bore children in the face of oppression. Miriam would accompany her mother to the births. Her job was to comfort the babies and sing to them. The Reishit Chachma says humans have relatively long infancies compared to animals because we’re supposed to learn mercy through receiving it. The doomed babies in Egypt didn’t suffer needlessly. Miriam cared for them with love and sensitivity. By her example, she taught us that even when things are unknowable and unbearable you must still do your best.

When Yocheved was called before Paro she said that the Jewish women were like chayot, animals. They gave birth on their own. Chayot

also means living creatures. Being alive means change and growth. Despair equals death. Yocheved intuited, they haven’t despaired, they’re still having children. And in the merit of their incredible faith, the Jewish people were ultimately redeemed.

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