The Badass Biblical Women of Passover

“In the merit of the righteous women Israel were redeemed from Egypt, and in their merit the future generations will be redeemed.”

That line is from the Talmud, but it couldn’t be more relevant today. The future is female, states the rallying cry, and there’s nowhere that’s been more evident than in the last 100 years, as female activists have been the champions of social change from the suffragettes to #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the Women’s March. That’s just the movement side, though —underlying it all there are thousands, if not millions, of women just like you and me out there fighting for change in our personal lives, our schools, our workplaces, our homes, our communities, our societies.

Luckily we have some great role models to follow. A couple thousand years ago, our Israelite ancestors were fighting for social change in the midst of Egyptian exile… And while Moses might be considered the main character of Passover, it was a host of best female supporting actors that got us over the finish line.

Feeling down on yourself today? Wondering how you can ever make a difference? Unsure you can even handle your uncle’s uncomfortable comments at Passover seder, let alone change the world? Buckle up for some inspiration from your Israelite ancestral matriarchs, and carry that warrior goddess power forward!

1. The midwives didn’t stand down

Midwives hold all the power in society, as anyone who’s ever binge watched Call the Midwife knows. In Egypt, the Israelite community was growing — swarming, in fact. And as any good fascist dictatorship knows, when the immigrants start to multiply, it’s time to get scared — what if they rise up against us? Pharaoh and his advisors were sure it was time to curb the Hebrew’s enthusiasm and asked the Israelite midwives Shifra and Pua for help with some accidental post-birth good old-fashioned infanticide. They weren’t having it, made some excuses to Pharaoh, and were rewarded instead with everlasting “houses,” aka big name descendants. (In a culture obsessed with names, this was a sweet example of God’s “measure for measure” biblical rewards policy.)

2. Sacred seduction for the sake of a nation

Since baby-killing was all the rage in Egypt, it was logical that the Israelite breeding class might forgo sex for a bit so the fruit of their loins wouldn’t be slaughtered. Enter a motif that comes up often in Jewish scripture and takes all of our feminist-tinged-lenses to read it for the empowering piece it can be: sacred seduction. Far from being seen as baby-making machines, the ladies who took it into their own hands to seduce their partners for the sake of continuing the Hebrew tribal tradition were lauded for generations. From Tamar to Esther, Jewish heroines who’ve used their womanly wiles to make the Jewish babies who save our nation should be applauded for their strength, strategy, vulnerability, and smarts — beyond their conjugal and gestational abilities.

3. Yocheved, the resourceful Jewish mom

“Behind every great man, there’s a powerful woman” is what used to lie on my bubbe, the rabbi’s wife’s, fridge. There’s no more powerful patriarch than Moses, redeemer of the Israelites from Egypt, so obviously his mama would have to be pretty special. 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 pimped-out basket she slipped into the Nile river, cuing Ofra Haza’s brilliant “River Lullaby” in the movie we should all be watching this week, Prince of Egypt. (Her 5-year-old daughter, Miriam, followed the basket and watched its progress along the river, so props to her, too.) Yocheved had the faith, the vision, and the strategy to save her son — and in the process, saved a nation.

4. Pharaoh’s daughter, Most Valuable Princess

What do you do when your dad has a penchant for the blood of Jewish babies, and you feel a tug of the heartstrings from the tiny foundling literally on your doorstep (or private-beach-step, in this case)? If you’re Batya, daughter of Pharaoh, you’re bringing him home to your dad and showing off your new son, even as you know he was only left to float down the river and arrive at your swimming hole because of Dad’s decree (Miriam, Moses’ big sister, was watching in the reeds and helped unravel the mystery, without giving away too much). Batya was a fearless priestess princess who didn’t care what people said: She was adopting this baby, and Moses would be her son, no matter what the Egyptian priests, astrologers, and her dad the king said. Sometimes, it’s our compassion that wins out over everything else, no damns given.

5. Tzipporah saves the day

If Moses had a powerful mama and a rockstar sister, then what more does he need but a badass wife — and with Tzipporah, Midianite priestess and racial-justice warrior, it’s evident from the start. En route back to Egypt with his new wife and two kids in tow, Moses is accosted by an Angel of God (aka Angel of Death) at a roadside motel, all because in his I’m-running-away-from-being-Israelite-stage he’d overlooked circumcising his son. While he was being swallowed by a boa constrictor and fighting for his life, Tzipporah steps in with a sharp flintstone and a sharp sense of what to do: She slices off that foreskin, appeases God, and off we go to Egypt. So to those who say mohels (ritual circumcisors) can’t be women, just a reminder.

6. Miriam and her tambourines

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 it 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 her, singing.” Miriam was a little girl of 5 last we checked on her, and now she’s grown up to be a leader of women, dancing and singing in gratitude and praise after The Most Epic Night Ever™.

But where did the ladies get these timbrels, tambourines, and drums from, when they were previously in a land hostile to their traditions and celebrations? Well, that’s where our Rabbinic statement comes to show just how powerful the Israelite ladies were in the first place. Nobody spends the hours of drum-crafting — slowly threading sinew across skin and wood frame — without an intention to use the magical instrument. Miriam and her posse 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 that 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, and for me she’s beyond that: She’s the paradigm shifter, the bringer of hope, the visionary. Because if we can truly visualize and believe the freedom that’s waiting for us on the other end, wouldn’t we do everything we can to make sure we’re properly equipped for the other side?

The Passover story is told and retold every year at the Passover seder. This year, let’s not forget the ancient women who ensured we’d be able to do so for years to come.

Rishe Groner

Rishe Groner is the creator of The Gene-Sis, a post-Hasidic movement towards embodied experience and personal growth through Jewish mystical texts. Rishe is a writer, strategist, marketer and teacher, and her work has appeared in Lilith, Tablet, The Wisdom Daily, and on

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