As the seventh grade mechanechet (lead teacher) at ASHAR, a recent email caught my attention. A contest created by the Manhattan Jewish Experience, challenged ladies to create a 30-second video about inspiring Jewish women. As a mentor of middle school girls, one of my many goals is to foster healthy Jewish pride. I strive to instill within each girl a pride in her unique background and challenge each to channel her individual talents toward the collective goals of Jewish womanhood and netzach Yisrael, or Jewish eternity. I enthusiastically encouraged the girls to take the challenge and participate in the contest. The results were truly amazing.
Our discussion began, literally at the beginning of time. Starting at creation, women have always played an integral part in Jewish history. Sarah joins Avraham in his missionary work. While Avraham worked hard to convert the men, Sarah taught and guided the women. Avraham consults with Sarah on all major decisions, and in one case, Sarah overrides his judgment: “In all that Sarah said to you, listen to her voice.” (Bereshit 21:12) Sarah’s decision to remove Yishmael from Avraham’s house sets the stage for her son Yitzchak to take his father’s place as Patriarch to our then young nation.
A difficult pregnancy forces Rivka to the beit midrash of Shem and Ever to seek Hashem’s advice. She learns she will give birth to twins, the younger, Yaakov, will take his father’s place as leader of Israel. Rivka then manipulates history to ensure divine destiny. Not only does she make sure that Yakov receives the blessing from Yitzchak, but she is determined to keep Yakov safe and out of Eisav’s harm’s way.
Slavery in Egypt was a time of anguish for the Jewish people. When Amram, Moshe’s father, despaired, the midrash tells us it was his daughter Miriam that pleaded with him not to bring extinction to the Jewish people. Amram immediately listened, remarried his wife, Yocheved, and brought Moshe Rabbeinu into this world. It was Miriam that watched over baby Moshe. It was Miriam that later celebrated at the Yam Suf, or Sea of Reeds. It was in the merit of Miriam that the Jews had water to drink in the desert for 40 years.
As my discussion with the seventh grade girls continued, the excitement mounted and the names of inspiring women continued to flow. Chana’s tefila (prayer), her lips moving but no sound made, became the preferred mode of Jewish prayer. Devorah the Judge and Yael the Brave had become our inspiration. The self-sacrifice of both Ruth and Esther had become our pride. The wise women of Tekoa and Avel added to our excitement.
What was it about these righteous women? What was the one common thread of greatness exemplified by these extraordinary women? Was it their tremendous bitachon (trust) in Hashem? Was it their unwavering commitment to their nation? Was it their deep resolve to persevere? To ASHAR’s seventh grade girls the answer didn’t really matter. Each of these women shone as a person that had a unique relationship with Hashem. Each of these women used their intelligence and strength at a time when their help was needed to guarantee the survival of the Jewish people. Each of these women made a difference in a world of distress and extreme need. Each of these women was a role model worthy of emulation.
We learned a wonderful lesson that day. Each of us is part of a treasured legacy. Each of us is a link in the chain of mesorah, the Jewish tradition that traces back to these wonderful women. Each of us is challenged to carry the torch of Torah to the next generation.
B’zechut nashim tzidkaniyot – in the merit of these righteous women our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt. B’zechut nashim tzidkaniyot – may it be in the merit of righteous women that our final redemption come readily in our day!