This week’s parashah starts by saying the Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, plus their dependents. Moreover, a mixed multitude went out with them and many livestock, both flocks and herds. It ends with stating that you shall explain to your child on that day, “It is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt.”
The text tells us in whose company the journey was made: 600,000 men. How about the women? Their omission from this figure is surprising, but it is in keeping with other aspects in the Torah. Although we should also remember that the Book of Exodus begins with stories about women —Moses's mother and sister, the two midwives, and Pharaoh's daughter— whose heroism was indispensable for the redemption from Egypt itself.
The Torah does not specify who is within the mixed multitudes that left with the Israelites. However, the law states that no foreigner may partake of the Passover offering. The mixed multitudes were not Israelites. They may have been spouses of an Israelite or another servant or slave living within Egypt at that time. Some may have been converts. This group never really joined the group while in the desert. The Egyptians as a mixed multitude never truly joined the Israelites and were a source of trouble during the years of wandering in the wilderness. How much does this describe our own communities today! The immigrants may fulfill a need to the community that those within the community cannot or will not fill. If that immigrant becomes a citizen, then they would fall under the same laws as the governing country.
The interpretation toward the end of the parashah, concerning that you (the father) should explain to your child (son) what Adonai did for me when I went out of Egypt seems to exclude the daughters. Remember that the midwives questioned Pharaoh’s edicts. Miriam watched over Moses and gave women strength. Pharaohs’ daughter raised Moses, realizing he was probably an Israelite. Women continue to play a major role in the Jewish journey. Whether in our statements and resolutions on pay equality, child marriages, immigration (1915), education, gun control, immigration reform, German Jewish émigrés, displaced persons, human rights, racial profiling, education, or any of the other topics, we are raising our voices as women.
We all have a passion for Judaism and justice. Each of us must travel our own path, both within Judaism and within the larger community we live. We must pursue our path to freedom, first as an individual, then as part of a group, then as a community. We must resist that there are two sets of laws, one for the citizen and one for the stranger that lives among us. This is seen in our many statements and resolutions that we have made in over 100 years.
The parashah teaches us that when we move forth, as Jews, we voice our concerns not only for ourselves, but those around us. This is part of the mixed multitudes that the Torah speaks of. May we continue our journey forward. May we bring others with us. May we follow the path to the land that we were promised, a land flowing of milk and honey. May we also explain to the generations that are to follow: That it is because of what Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt. May we remember the past and instruct the future that we all may learn together.
Joanne Fried is a District 15 past president and Congregation Gates of Prayer past sisterhood president. She is a lifetime honorary board member at Congregation Gates of Prayer as well as a lifetime honorary WRJ board member.