Deliverance Through The Merit of Righteous Women
Our Sages teach that the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt by the merit of righteous women (Sotah 11b). Why? Because their faith was stronger than that of the men, for they firmly believed in a veritable deliverance. This is why they made drums in the middle of their exile in Egypt, as it is written: “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went forth after her with drums and with dances” (Exodus 15:20). Also, in order that their husbands not lose hope during their slavery in Egypt, they encouraged them by saying that their deliverance would not delay.
The holiness of these women was also demonstrated by their great modesty, since they stood at a distance from the men when they sang G-d’s praises. They were thus at the origin of the exodus from Egypt. Our Sages also tell us that for the making of the copper laver they wanted to devote the mirrors they used to beautify themselves in order to beget upright children (Bamidbar Rabba 9:14). Moses, however, refused to use these mirrors because they seemed improper to him, until G-d ordered him to use them because He valued the merit and holiness of these women. Hence it was because of these women that the exodus from Egypt took place.
The women of Israel also refused to give their jewelry for the making of the golden calf (Bamidbar Rabba 21:10), therefore Aaron had to tell the men, “Remove the gold rings that are in the ears of your wives” (Exodus 32:2). However when the Tabernacle was being built, it is stated that they rushed – even before the men – to dedicate their offerings of gold (ibid. 35:22), in addition to their labor, as it is written: “Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands” (v.25). It was therefore because of the virtues of such women that the Children of Israel left Egypt.
The women especially loved Eretz Israel with a burning love. According to the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:10), they loved it as Joseph did, for it is written: “The daughters of Zelophehad…of the families of Manasseh son of Joseph” (Numbers 27:1), demanding their heritage in Eretz Israel. Moreover, while some of the Children of Israel refused to leave Egypt, the women made their drums and prepared to praise Hashem and leave that place. The daughters of Zelophehad, though unfamiliar with Eretz Israel, still expressed their desire to go and settle there. Their purity greatly aided them, and because of it – even in a land of impurity – the holiness of Eretz Israel’s air reached them.
We may finally say that every deliverance and miracle that has occurred over the span of the generations has been because of righteous Jewish women. Let us cite some notable examples: Miriam, who watched over Moses in his basket on the Nile (Sotah 11a); the prophetess Deborah, who sang of deliverance and miracles (Judges 5:1-31); Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who saved Israel by killing Sisera (Judges 4:21); Queen Esther, who brought about the miracle of Purim; Judith, who brought about Chanukah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 670:2); and the wife of On, son of Peleth, who saved her husband from certain death by persuading him not to join Korach’s followers (Sanhedrin 109b).
We must nevertheless ask how a woman can surpass her husband by her influence. No one denies that women are physically weaker than men, yet it was the women in Egypt who watched over their husbands’ spiritual growth and saved them from feelings of hopelessness by forcing them to leave that land of slavery.
The Midrash states that after the death of Rabbi Elazar (the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), a small worm came out of his ear because he did not react when he heard a Sage being maligned. Before his death, however, his wife expressed her joy at being connected with such a holy body. Whereas he was to be punished, his wife remained upright and righteous (Bava Metzia 84b). From where, in the final analysis, does a woman’s merit originate?
A man has every opportunity to carry out G-d’s commandments: Tefillin, prayer, and especially the regular and diligent study of Torah, the very goal of man’s existence (Sanhedrin 99b). Women, on the other hand, are exempt from these mitzvot, particularly those that are “time-bound” (Berachot 20b). As a result, they have the time to devote themselves to their families and educate their children (see Berachot 17a). Despite that, however, women are charged with rebuilding what was destroyed with the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, a sin that, as we have seen, brought death into the world (Shabbat 32a). It is therefore incumbent upon women to repair everything. Therein lies the full meaning of the verse, “I will make for him a help as his counterpart” (Genesis 2:18). After having been the cause of his banishment form the Garden of Eden (located, according to certain opinions, in Eretz Israel – Eruvin 19a), women should help men to rebuild themselves on a personal level, to help them wholeheartedly love Eretz Israel and make them appreciate its beauty and holiness. This is why a woman has more strength than her husband.
If Hashem endowed women with intuitive understand that is greater than that of men (Niddah 45b), it was in order for them to use it to strengthen their husbands. Being exempt from numerous mitzvot, women should build their homes, allowing their husbands to study Torah and develop their fear of G-d, and in this way both men and women will merit the delights of the World to Come.