On the holiday of Pesach we
remember the bondage of the nation of Israel in Egypt and the nation's
subsequent miraculous exodus. We celebrate the fact that the nation
was able to emerge as just that: a people who had grown in number, in
size, in fortitude and strength, ready to serve G-d.
The Talmud (Sotah 11b) relates that there was a correlation between the
perseverance of the nation and the departure: "Rav Avira expounded: In
the merit of the righteous women who lived in that generation, the
nation of Israel was delivered from Egypt. When they went to draw
water, the Holy One, Blessed be He, arranged that small fishes should
enter their pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half
full of fishes. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water
and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the
field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had marital
relations with them among the sheepfolds. . . ."
Pharaoh was worried that the people living in his land would overpower
the natives. He devised a scheme to ensure that he and the Egyptian
people would retain supremacy over the descendants of Yaakov living in
his land. The people were to be enslaved. They were to be broken, in
mind and spirit. The men would be forced to work for long hours, so
that they could not return home to their wives. The result would be a
decline in the birth rate. The nation would not grow, in numbers, in
strength, in resolve. However, the women of the nation of Israel had a
different plan in mind.
The women realized that the nation had to grow and continue to exist.
They would not let the Egyptians succeed in their nefarious task. The
Maharsha explains that the women wanted to provide support for their
husbands. They went to draw water for their husbands, so that they
would have enough to drink. Drawing water, the Iyun Yaakov notes, is no
easy task. It is a difficult job that was traditionally done by the
men. However, the women desired to strengthen their spouses, enabling
them to get through their difficult ordeal. G-d assisted the women in
their noble task, by causing small fish to swim into the pitchers as
the water was being drawn. The men then not only had water to drink,
but they had food to eat as well. The women provided the foundation the
men needed to survive.
In addition, Pharaoh's decree initially had its desired effect. The men
did not return home, Married life, family life as the people knew it,
had come to an end. Couples no longer had any intimacy in their lives.
The holy bond that ties families together was threatened. Yet, the
women knew that in order for the nation to survive, the families had to
remain in tact as well. The women remained true to their spouses, never
allowing their desire for intimacy to violate their marital union. The
women took a proactive role in rebuilding the intimacy of their
relationships. They went out to the fields where their husbands were
laboring, and gave them food and drink. They washed and anointed them,
making them feel refreshed and
invigorated. They then rekindled that spark of intimacy that Pharaoh had
tried to extinguish. The woman became pregnant and had children,
thereby ensuring that the nation would indeed grow and persevere. In
the merit of these holy actions of the women of the nation of Israel,
the entire nation was redeemed.
The women did not merely recognize that the nation's existence was in
danger. They took action to assure that not only would the nation
continue to exist, but it would grow and thrive as well. As we sit in
exile, subject to assaults, (albeit different in style but not in
substance,) we must recall the valiant efforts of the women in Egypt.
They realized that
survival of our nation depended on strength of spirit and strength in
numbers. Devotion, to G-d, to one's people, to one's family, to one's
spouse, is integral to our survival. When we sit down at the Seder,
recalling how we were enslaved and redeemed, we must take some time to
contemplate how we have put into action that which we learned from the
righteous women in Egypt.