Shemot - the names and the book

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Shemot - The names and the book
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Though "Shemot" or "Shmos", the Book of Names, does begin with a list of names from which all the women have been excluded, it moves onward to give the names -- indeed, first names we hear of anyone in Egypt -- Shifrah & Puah, the two midwives who defy Pharaoh's order to kill boy babies (so it is clear they are not concerned with girls alone) in the first recorded act of nobviolent civil disobedience.
The story then continues with Moses' mother, his sister, and his wife having important explicit in roles in giving him new "political" births that go beyond his biological rebirth.
Moreover, the Exodus story has become the paradigm of many liberation movemments in world history, including the movement for women's liberation.
And more recently, Jewish women & men have been weaving a macro-midrash about the Yitziat Mitzrayyim (Going forth from the Narrow space) as being about going thru the narrow birth canal into a new peoplehood and, even more, into the psychopolitical analogue of birth, into freedom where (as with the new biological birth) there is open possibility.
Many many aspects of the Torah text point in the direction of seeing Yetziat Mitzrayim as exactly a birthing. This is, however,- - it's funny, sad, understandable, baffling, and excruciating all at once to see this -- a very new midrash -- in our generation -- for pretty obvious reasons: not till now have women been in the beit midrash & men in the birthing room.
So despite all the patriarchal limits of Torah (including Shemot/ Exodus) , the Torah itself (especially Shemot) points beyond those limits and calls us to create an understanding of Torah that is not patriarchal.
To see, to rage against, to cry over the limits and at the same time celebrate the seeds of self-transformation that are present in Torah is, for me, a deeply enriching experience. because I need to be able to see, rage against, and cry over the limits of my own self and ALSO celebrate the seeds of self-transformation in me.
I am not accidentally using the biological metaphor of "seed" and its associations with the plant's equivalent of birth and new possibility rooted in the last generation. The message is the medium, the medium is the message.

Torah Portions: