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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Four Women and a Girl Changed the World

In Parshat Shemot the scene is set. The players are ready, their roles determined

and the story of the Exodus begins. In this book of miracles, what occurs in the first two chapters is not about miracles that God makes, but about the bravery of words and deeds of four women and a girl.

"Lo al y'dei malach, v'lo al y'dei saraf"

"...not through an angel and not through a seraph and not through a messenger.."

From the Passover Haggadah

Four women and a girl changed the world.

Not the wings of an angel

and not the hands of a seraph

but four ordinary women and one girl,

with the tools they possessed.

With all their hearts, with all their souls

and with all they their might,

they stood apart;

yet stood together.

Four women and one girl changed lives.

Not with superhuman strength, but with conviction.

Not with magic, but with cunning.

Not with violence, but with stealthy resistance.

Both with words, but also with actions.

Not with hatred, but with love.

One woman connected to the next.

flax to linen; water to milk;

blood to birth,

tolerance to compassion.

Sisters in resistance.

The princess, the daughter of royalty,

could see what others did not.

The ripples of the water which quickened

as a reed basket floated by,

She heard the muffled sound of a babe's cry.

She did not turn away,

but opened the basket.

She did not throw the child to the water,

She did not heed the words of her father.

She saw the babe as a child and not as the other,

and with this action, she created a universe

bright and expansive

which shines like the stars in the sky

until this day.

The mother of the child,

planned boldly, slyly,

as only a desperate mother can do;

with a plan as wild as a desert storm

and as risky as a military maneuver,

She placed her child onto the water

and waited still and breathless on the sidelines.

Shifra and Puah, women of valor,

looked royalty in the eye and lied.

Shifra and Puah,

whose names drop like pearls in the water,

used the power of their hands to bring life,

used the birthing stool as a weapon.

And Miriam, young in years, but old in bravery,

stood calm and steady as an ancient tree as she guarded.

Words never failed her, she did not waver as she stood near;

her was message clear, her legs strong as she ran to her mother.

Miriam, of the water.

Miriam, the brave sister,

the gallant daughter.

Four women and a young girl changed the world,

Some were named, others were not.

Some had possessions and some had nothing,

All were women;

women of substance, mentally powerful.

Women not afraid to speak truth to power,

to use what they had to make change.

Women united in truth and in words,

in every action of cleverness, of bravery;

using their strengths to create universes.


He [Rabbi Tarfon] used to say: It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it; Pirkei Avot 3:16

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.

Ancient Dura Europos Synagogue fresco of Moses being drawn from the Nile. Taken from a page in My Jewish Learning.


A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.

The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months.

When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.

And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it.

When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.”

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”

And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.

Exodus 2: 1-8 (translation from Sefaria)

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