Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Heroic Women of the Pesach Story: D'var Torah by Beverly Stein

D’var Torah

Beverly Stein

Passover – First Day 2021

Today’s Torah portion, Exodus 12:21-51 is from Parshat Bo which I spoke about in January. I promise to say something different.

Moses speaks about the duty of parents to educate their children, passing on to them their people’s story until it becomes their own. Moses tells the Israelites three times, per G-d’s command, how they should tell the story to their children in future generations. 

·  First, Exodus 12:26-27: When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians.’ 

·  Second, Exodus 13:8: On that day tell your child, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 

·  And third, Exodus 13:14: “In days to come, when your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 

At the moment of redemption, Moses did not speak about freedom but about education. He fixed his vision not on the immediate but on the distant future, and not on adults but children. In so doing he was making the point that it may be hard to escape from tyranny but it is harder still to build and sustain a free society. Freedom begins with what we teach our children. That is why Jews became a people whose passion is education, whose heroes are teachers and whose citadels are schools. Nowhere is this more evident than on Passover, when the entire ritual of passing on our story to the next generation is set in motion by the questions asked by a child. According to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “freedom is born not on the battlefield but in homes, schools and houses of study.” That is the message of the world’s oldest ritual, Passover, and its force remains undiminished today. The message of Passover remains as powerful as ever.

In telling our story, we don’t stress the importance of the women in the story.  I am going to add them to our story.

The Talmud highlights the role of women in our Passover story. During the times of ancient Egypt, when Jews were enslaved, it was the responsibility of women to ensure that life would go on. They sat underneath the apple trees when their husbands returned drained from building Pharaoh’s cities, allowing them to forget their pains through their lovemaking, ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people. Later they would secretly give birth in the apple orchard, evading Pharaoh’s decree to kill every male baby. They kept the hope alive that somehow things would get better. These women, who were also working under Pharaoh’s rule, Exodus 1:14 “In all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor”, put aside their own fears and exhaustion and found the strength to assuage those of their families. Talmud Sotah 11b states “In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt.” 

Now, let’s look at the six key women of our Passover story:

The Midwives - Shifra and Puah

The first female characters to appear in Exodus 1:15-20 are the midwives, Shifra and Puah. Pharaoh calls Shifra and Puah to appear before him and demands that they kill all male children of the Israelites. The midwives refuse his request claiming that the Hebrew women are lively and give birth before they even reach them. This is one of the earliest known acts of civil disobedience. The text is unclear whether they were actually Hebrew midwives or Egyptian midwives for the Hebrews. In either case, for them to stand up to Pharaoh was heroic, but if they were Egyptian—it’s astonishing.

With this defiant act of conscience, Shifra and Puah didn't know that they were planting the seeds for a chain of events that would defeat the mightiest empire on earth and free a people from centuries of slavery.

The Rabbis inquire concerning the nature of the excuse given to Pharaoh by the midwives in Exodus 1:19, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous [hayyot].” This cannot mean that the Hebrew women themselves were midwives (one meaning of hayyot is midwives), since the midwife herself requires another midwife to give birth. Rather, they told Pharaoh that this nation is like the beasts (hayyot) of the field; the women, who are like beasts, do not need the help of any human. Thus, in Jacob’s blessing to his sons in Gen. 49, Judah is compared to a lion’s whelp, Dan to a serpent, Naphtali to a hind let loose, Issachar to a strong-boned ass, and so forth.  


Next we meet Yocheved, Moses’ mother. Pharaoh ordered that all newborn Hebrew boys be taken from their parents and drowned in the Nile. When baby Moses is born, his mother, Yocheved, according to midrash, hides him for three months. But then, unable to keep his existence secret any longer, she commits the second act of civil disobedience recorded in Exodus. Working with her daughter, Miriam, she places Moses in a woven basket and sets the baby adrift on the Nile.

Yocheved had the faith, the vision, and the strategy to save her son — and in the process, saved a nation.

Pharaoh’s daughter (Batya)

Next we encounter Pharaoh’s daughter who is clearly Egyptian. Her story appears in Exodus 2:5-10, She goes to the river to wash. she sees the basket, opens it, and saw the child; and declared “look – a boy crying.” Her compassion leads her to commit the third act of civil disobedience in the Exodus story. She moves out of her comfort level and becomes a mother.  She adopts and welcomes a child of another background and opens her heart to raise a child of another faith in her home. She then turns to Miriam to ask her to find him a wet nurse. She knowingly stays engaged with his family of origin. She is a model of welcoming and outreach and the tradition is that when we welcome others by adoption or hospitality, she blesses us.

By keeping the baby Moses alive, Batya sets the stage for the Exodus to occur.

In the Torah, Pharaoh’s daughter is unnamed yet she does such an overwhelming gesture of kindness, in saving the baby, that the rabbis felt compelled to give her the name Batya, meaning “daughter of G-d.”


Our fifth female character is Miriam. She was a prophetess, a leader and a musician, as well as Moses and Aaron’s sister.

Miriam finds her independence at a young age, defying both her parents, and choosing to spare her brother’s life all in one bold decision. According to Midrash, Miriam’s father wanted to divorce her mother for fear of having another son. This practice of divorcing was common at the time. However, Miriam interjected; she scolded them both, and said, “by separating, you are decreeing death on both the sons and daughters of Israel!” After her brother’s birth, Miriam devised a way to keep Moses alive: along with her mother, Yocheved, by placing him in the Nile and offering Yocheved as a wet nurse.

In another instance of bold leadership, after the Israelites escape Egypt by miraculously crossing the Red Sea, Miriam leads the entire community in celebration with her famous Song of the Sea. In Exodus 15:20-21, Miriam takes a “timbrel in her hand” and “chanted for them.” As the story continues, all the women join Miriam, singing in unison: “Sing for the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.” There are only ten songs mentioned in the entire Torah; that one is led by a female stresses the importance of women in the Passover story and of the role of female leadership. Songs are often interpreted as an expressive form of prayer, so it is especially poignant that a woman is leading the Israelites in song. Miriam also inspires us to celebrate our victories, despite the bitter oppression we have endured.

The women came together, after crossing the Red Sea, to share their hope and joy and their commitment to the future, despite whatever differences may have divided them before they escaped.  The women serve as an example of how we should behave toward each other.

A modern tradition that many of us chose to do is put a Miriam’s cup on our Seder table. Miriam’s cup is filled with water and serves as a symbol of Miriam’s Well, the source of water for the Israelites in the desert.  There are legends about Miriam’s well.  It is said to have been a magical source of water that followed the Israelites for 40 years because of the merit of Miriam. The waters of these wells were said to have healing and sustaining powers.


The sixth and final female character is Tzipporah.  Tzipporah, Moses’s wife, is a Midianite princess. Tzipporah circumcises her son. Why does only one son need to be circumcised? The Rabbis are not clear on why only one son was circumcised. The Midrash teaches that only one of Moses and Tzipporah’s son had been circumcised, for the other had been promised to Yitro to be raised as a Midianite. Two angels stopped Moses and Tzipporah on their way back to Egypt. The angels of black and red fire, Af and Hemah who do God’s will on earth, were prepared to kill Moses for this transgression of not circumcising both boys.  In Exodus 4:24-26 - “So Tzipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched his legs with it saying, ‘You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!’ “A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.” Once again it is a woman who understands what has to be done to sustain the continuity of both the Jewish people.

Women are an essential part of the Passover story.  All six female protagonists in the Pesach story are a rebel. A rebel is a person who intentionally does something different from the norm because she has an opinion that is not shared by many others. A rebel stands up against unjust doings. The word “rebel” often has a negative connotation, but it can also be used to describe a truly inspiring person.  A rebel is someone who does “wrong” because she feels that her actions are right.

Not all of the women in our story were Israelites. The Israelites, therefore, were dependent on those outside their group to survive. We claim these non-Israelite and Israelite women as our heroines. Miriam’s cup is a symbol not only of Miriam but of all six of our heroines. They are part of the Passover story and are significant characters in our transformation from slavery to freedom. Then, as today, the survival and health of the Jewish people are not always in our own hands. As we move forward with these stories as our guide and the many interfaith partners we are embracing along the way, we must appreciate their efforts this Passover season in the ongoing story of liberation and transformation of the Jewish people and all of humanity.

It seems significant that this year, much of the Jewish month of Nissan and the holiday of Passover fall within Women’s History Month. March, with its themes of springtime renewal and new beginnings, and Passover, with its focus on the journey toward liberation, heighten the message of Women’s History Month: that centering the stories of those on the margins helps us see the world with fresh eyes and sparks the possibility for change, setting us on a path that extends far beyond the month of March and the Passover story. 

The Passover story is told and retold every year at the Seder. This year, let’s not forget the women of our story who ensured the survival of the Jewish people and teach us the importance of faith in our future and the importance of embracing and reaching out to help others.


Chag Sameach!

Monday, March 29, 2021

TBE Zoom Seder, 2021

Click on photos to enlarge

Zoom Seder 2021 Outline

“No Seder Like Our Sederf”


Haggadah "A Different Night"

Rabbinical Assembly 2021 Supplement

Exodus Conversations


Order of the Seder – Show art from Copenhagen Haggadah (Northern Germany, 1700s)

Gatherings reading


Kadesh urechatz




Urhatz—We cleanse our hands from the tum’ah, the impurity of the virus and the paralysis of fear.

As we wash our hands Ritualwell

(no blessing usually here – except that now we add the blessing)


We pray,

Blessed is the Soul of the Universe,

Breathing us in and breathing us out.

May our breaths continue

And our health and the health of all

Be preserved

In this time of sickness and fear of sickness.

Holy Wholeness,

We take as much responsibility for this as we can

By observing the obligation to wash our hands


For as long as it takes to say this prayer.




How has the ritual of washing hands changed for you THIS PAST YEAR?

Have you gotten more aware of cleanliness? Obsessed?


Karpas – p 10


Karpas—We hold the symbols of spring that remind us that the life of the universe

continues its cycle of death and of rebirth. The new green sprouts break through the kittel,

the lingering shroud of the snow of winter.

Still, we dip the hopes of spring into the salt water of current loss.






11 Lessons of Hope and Healing During the Pandemic (remove a drop of salt water from the cup).


YACHATZ. – larger piece for afikomen


Get rid of that hametz!! 

Dr Seuss reading

I do not want you in my house

I do not want you or your spouse

I do not want to eat with you

At Seder One or Seder Two

Don't get me wrong I think you're nice

Bu the CDC gave me this advice

You must avoid one plague more

And shoo Elijah from your door

At next year's Seder we will tell

How we were all saved by Purell




Maggid--In a time of isolation, we must remember that humans are defined by our ability to speak.

We cry across the electronic void hurling words of connection to those near and far. It is true lo tov heyot adam livado—it is not good for people to be alone.

We speak of the four expressions of redemption:

Freedom from fear

Freedom to hope

Freedom from inequality 

Freedom to care


Ha Lachma  p. 12 – we are in the darkness phase. Uncover matza.


ENGLISH of Ha lachma




“Everybody needs an Egypt…

And one long journey

that they’ll remember forever

on the soles of their feet” (Amnon Ribeck)


1) What do you consider your promised land?

2) What three objects would you bring out of Egypt?  Do a word cloud



READ BRATZLAV QUOTE about not missing the moment….  Leaving Egypt with Haste






Four Questions

 What does it mean to “ask questions” when one is celebrating the Seder alone or with a small gathering?How is a does a virtual Seder feel different from a personal SederDo you think that a virtual Seder will discourage or encourage conversation and questions? Why?


CHATBOX First Gentleman Doug Emhoffurged us this Passover to talk about the unsung heroes, past and present —

including, of course, the teachers, first responders, grocery store clerks,

and medical professionals who have all worked tirelessly through this pandemic.


Avadim Hayinu p. 16. Rev Dr Michael Christie



Four Children - Climate change


MODERN Four sons – American Jews


Four Daughters (Tablet)


Four children – Covid


Fifth Child Gun Violence reading


Maggid cards for chat discussion


p. 35 V’hi She’amda – signs and wonders.  Read on page and then this reading

“Not with a strong hand /And not with an outstretched arm /

And not with great awe / And not with signs /

And not with wonders / Rather hesitantly, with small steps, terrified by darkness

/ Softly / Dedicated / Purposefully / with accuracy / And love

/ Carrying little signs like the wrinkles of passing time,

/ The transition of seasons, my changing body, the pearls of my longings.”

Chat Box Moment: Are the “signs and wonders” picket signs and perseverance? 

Or are they simply thoughts and prayers?  Who do WE stand up for?

“Let My People Go “ that’s our response. "If I Had a Hammer

Ten Plagues – p. 46.


Ten Pandemic Plagues


Remembering those we have lost…. THE LOSSES FROM THIS PLAGUE


Modern Ten Plagues - Part 2


Dayenu - p48


Sea Shanty video  -  https://youtu.be/VQON0ipv6iI  NO


Two walls of water are on my right and my left

Behind me are Pharaoh’s troops

and in front of me the desert

And perhaps the promised land.

That sums up my life.” (Yehuda Amichai)



The Conflicting Truths of Passover


P. 52 – Pesach, Matza and maror – read together 52-53

New Passover symbols

P. 54 B’chol dor vador – 55.  Read all together and frankl reading on p 55 bottom


Show N tell – show family heirloom or other special Pesach object…..

p.58. miriam’s cup / 2nd cup


p. 60 Rahtzah--We wash again. This second washing is different for we have added a letter “heh” to the end of the word. We feel more connected to the holiness of the universe,

to each other and to the Holy One. We can now bless our hands by reaching out to help those in need

as it says with a strong hand and an outstretched arm you will help lift others out of their Egypt.


Chat box question: What activities (or ceasing of your normal activities)

have you found to be reviving during the year of quarantine?


p. 59 Motzi Matzah--We need to find (motzi) the matzah.

All the blows of the taskmasters can be seen on its pockmarked surface.

Yet it has become the symbol of freedom. It reminds us that once upon a time we left Egypt.

The only thing we carried with us into freedom was matzah. It was enough-dayenu.

Maror p. 60--We taste the bitterness of this very moment.

For the reality is we never completely leave Egypt nor make it to the Promised Land.

We are always on the way. It is in the seeking not the finding that life is lived.

Yet, tasting matzah, we are better equipped to confront the bitterness that is our lot.

Korekh--The deeper truth is that there is no slavery and no freedom distinct from each other.

They are not separate realms. Thus, we take matzah and maror and eat them together,

no longer imagining that we can separate them. Korekh means to embrace---to embrace all of life.

p.62 – any special charoset ingredients???  Charosets of the world.   

Which one would you most want to try?

Charoset – celebrating essential workers (URJ)

Shulhan Orekh--The pedagogy of the seder rests on our eating the experience not just talking about it.

We ingest the bitterness and the freedom. By the time we get to the meal itself,

it is freedom we eat as we remember the key lesson of the story—having once experienced freedom,

we know deeply it is possible to be free again.

Tzafun--We began with matzah as the bread of affliction.

It then became the symbol of the Exodus

and finally it is the afikomen. The hidden is revealed.

The afikomen points to the messianic future waiting to be announced by

Elijah standing at the door of humanity.

If only we would fully realize the potential that is in the world and that lies in our hand,

the door to freedom could be thrown wide open and kol ditzrikh yaitei ve-yifsakh—all in need would celebrate the great redemption of Pesah.

Afikoman note in my haggadah – an amulet that protected from disease.

p. 68 – should we invite Elijah in????  14 day quarantine?


Brich rachamana

Liel Liebowitz quote

Barekh--we are grateful for the blessings of our lives and even more

God’s promise to Abraham “heyeh berakhah” live your life in such a way as to be a blessing to others.

Hallel—we join with Miriam as we open our hearts and lift our voices in song—

it is the only way to cross the sea.


4th cup – p.73. // counting the omer p, 73

Echad Mi Yodaya (show Israeli election cartoon) p 76


Had Gadya with sound effects (get volunteers). // cause effect…cascading events – all our destinies are interconnected

and even the slightest act done by the least significant person can make a huge difference.

p. 85 Nirtza – read “The seder ends in an outburst of longing.”  (longing for the meal!!!). 

Anne Frank idealism

Next Year in Jerusalem

Nirtzah--The Psalmist says: “open your hand and satisfy every living thing be-ratzon with will”. It is a mistake to understand that verse as meaning

God gives every living being what they desire. That is not our experience.

What we are given is ratzon—a will to live, to love, and to give. Now we are ready for the journey to freedom that lies ahead.

L'shana Haba’ah


Is it better for the host to pre-spill some wine?
19:13:09 From Michael Christie : spill 19:13:13 From Hope Stanger : YES! 19:13:21 From brenda&andrew : Sure 19:13:24 From Leo (they/them) and Mia (they/them) : Yes! It’s welcoming and makes everyone feel more at ease 19:13:28 From Brian's iPhone : ok to spill 19:13:44 From Binnie Ditesheim : Makes those who spill more comfortable 19:13:46 From Dan Hammerman : Spills should only be accidental…no need to make a mess intentionally :) 19:14:01 From Marcia B. Staines : Yes spill some:) 19:14:06 From Jake Sigman : Spill! It’s not a passover seder unless someone spills their wine. 19:14:12 From Susan Schneiderman : its inevitable 19:15:08 From Amy Greenberg : A great idea. I spilled water on the Seder table.

I would have felt better if there had already been a spill. 19:15:29 From Leslie’s iPad : Spill the wine and make sure the tablecloth is washable. 19:21:42 From Gail and Stephen Trell : no spilling. it makes both the spillee and the host uncomfortable 19:22:16 From Gail and Stephen Trell : and guests too.    

WHAT THREE ITEMS WOULD YOU TAKE FORM EGYPT?19:29:28 From Eileen Rosner : ```````````````````KIDDUSH CUP photo of family my great grandfather’s violin 19:30:02 From brenda&andrew : Camel 20:06:57 From Leslie’s iPad : Gun violence

TEN MODERN PLAGUES? 20:07:11 From Judith Aronin : let's add GUN VIOLENCE!!!! 20:07:18 From Amanda Geffner : Polarized society 20:07:25 From Sandy-Alvin Siegartel : Bullying 20:07:58 From Dan Hammerman : Racism Inability to empathize 20:12:26 From Sandy-Alvin Siegartel : Using specific events to highlight social injustice. Spoke of Flint Michigan to discuss water pollution and lead poisoning. 20:15:18 From Leslie’s iPad : Hopefully African American’s Exodus is going on now. 20:15:30 From Amanda Geffner : Zisn Pesach all and thank you xoxo 20:34:19 From Pamela Tinkham : It's a beautiful Seder! Thank you! 20:36:42 From Sandy-Alvin Siegartel : A blessing to share a Pesach Seder with our TBE FAMILY! 20:54:32 From Sandy-Alvin Siegartel : We can take this show on the road! 20:56:35 From Sandy-Alvin Siegartel : Yasher Koach Rabbi and Cantor! 20:57:03 From Leslie’s iPad : Thank you both!