This week’s Torah portion, Shemot, (Ex. 1:1 – 6:1) begins by naming the descendants of Jacob who went to Egypt, and then jumps ahead to a much later time, when the Israelite people had become large enough to be considered a threat to the Egyptians, and when a Pharaoh came along who no longer knew what Joseph had done for Egypt, and held no gratitude. They enslaved the Israelites, and put them to hard labor, but still the Israelites multiplied. Then Pharaoh issued an edict to the Hebrew midwives that all male Israelite children should be put to death and only the female infants might live.
It is ironic that Pharaoh saw only the male Israelites as threats. The greatest leader of the Israelite people, Moses, who led them out of slavery in Egypt, was assisted into his role almost exclusively by women. The Hebrew midwives feared God, rather than the Pharaoh, and let the boys live. Moses’ mother, after his birth, hid him for three months, then put him in a basket of bulrushes and placed it in the Nile. Moses’ sister (not named here, but assumed to be Miriam) watched as Pharaoh’s own daughter took the child out of the river, and then offered her own mother as a wet-nurse for the baby, so that Moses was taken back into his own home. When he was grown, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him for her son, and took him to live in Pharaoh’s palace. As a young man, Moses went out among the people and, seeing an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, killed the Egyptian. He fled to Midian, where he was taken in by the seven daughters of the priest, and marries one of them, Tzipporah.
Moses was chosen by God, but only after his sense of justice, fairness and resistance to oppression had been formed in him. And most of those who taught him were the women in his life.