It’s always amazing to walk through Jerusalem’s streets and see everyone knee-deep in dirt flanked with cleaning detergent & blowtorches. All of us sweating our way through this communal ritual of Pesach house-cleaning. It’s no mistake that we start out our freedom march by house-cleaning. Because all great social revolutions really start in the home.
The sages tell us that it was in the merit of the women that the Hebrews were redeemed from Egypt. Just look at the first women who appear in the Exodus story – Shifra and Puah, the plucky midwives who refused to follow Pharoah’s murderous decree of slaughtering newborns. They are also understood to be Miriam and Tzipora, the mother and sister who nurtured Moses, the world’s greatest social agitator.
The Midrash Hagadol shares a story that succinctly & symbolically captures the grandeur of these ladies. It tells how Pharoah sent guards to capture these delinquent midwives. They chase them through thee streets and the women slip into one of the houses. God saves them from the guards by turning them into the very beams of a house. The guards search the house to no avail, they’re not there…or rather they are so very there, so part of the house, that they can not be seen. They have become embedded in the house itself. They are the beams, the fortifying forces that uphold the entire structure. These women literally come to embody the home and all that it symbolizes – family, relationship, communication, internality.
They are the ones bringing redemption….and they do it from within! From the home. For our homes are the internal spheres from which we impact the outer world. These internally-oriented midwives are called upon by Pharoah himself to become players in the external arena of power and politics. They rise to the task and become social activists on the national scene. They are the abolitionists that enable the redemption of an entire people and the righting of a massive social wrong.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sachs points out so eloquently, these women are “the first recorded instance of civil disobedience…(setting a precedent) that would eventually become the basis for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Shifra and Puah, by refusing to obey an immoral order, redefined the moral imagination of the world.” Histories proud line of social activists and conscientious objectors can trace their source back to these righteous midwives stand against the powers that be.
And it all started in the home. Their activism is their becoming the beams of a house. As a therapist I can’t help but view these ladies as the archetypal leaders of RELATIONAL REDEMPTION. They knew how to speak, how to hold together a family. They say that Puah was named so because she knew how to say “Pu, Pu” and quiet the cries of babes. These women knew how to communicate, how to quiet and hold and care for others. So it makes perfect sense that our freedom march begins by cleaning our kitchens with a vengeance…cleansing our homes and relationships are the first steps on the treck to ultimate freedom!
So here’s a little spokenword call out in Puah’s names. A call for redefining what it means to agitate for social justice in more internal terms. Not so much taking to the streets, as taking to the kitchen sink. Puah proves that all great historical battles for justice have their locus in the living room.
Like freedom fighters – who pray with their feet
I protest for inner-peace.
My freedom fighting is not political
(that task is for a hardier class of Jewish girl).
For me – the Egyptian fiend is personal.
For the Pharoahs I dethrone
rule the halls of each of our homes.
In the inner-alcoves of a private despair
that petrifies the children and paralyzes the parents
– that shackles our finest hours of commitment & contentment
I prefer to pedal wares of wars-well-avoided
where everyone wins through carefully worded
apologies between friends.
For cowering beneath the pyramids of needs
– my fiends
are the inner-menaces of ‘insecurities’
The tears of teens and toddlers
that oppress our most precious commodity — of family.
My enemies crouch quietly beneath
the crumbs on the carpet
– a beast between the sheets
of a cold-shouldered bedroom
where partners sleep unconscious
and deeply out of tune
with the exquisite symphony
of their common dreams.
What we need – are a hundred-thousand
Moseses of RELATIONAL REDEMPTION
who will stand strong in the face
of a sink-full of grimy resentments.
And so I call forth all fellow freedom fighters
toting infants, touting Torahs, holding pens..
All prayer-footed-protesters Come & Herald in
emotional freedom from the Pharonic foe
and let us birth our children
into peaceable homes.
For when our homes enshrine tranquility
then outer-world will follow inner-lead
and rock-hard hearts will soften grips
and all that’s enslaved will lithely slip
into the soft of freedom found
and take off your shoes to walk around
for here – in our homes – is the hallowed ground
from which God speaks
Your very oven is the burning bush
– Hear its call! – Feel its heat!
Agitate for inner-freedom…
Clean your house, cleanse your speech
and then will you begin to truly
pray with your feet…