Does One Crime Justify Another?

Understanding why God hardens Pharaoh's heart.

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Women and the Exodus

Through questions, we might call forth another counter-narrative: the experience of women during the exodus and its subsequent retelling. Noting that the traditional Haggadah assumes a conversation between a father and four sons, contemporary feminist Haggadot fill in for the absence of women's voices. The Ma'yan Haggadah, for example, includes the Four Daughters. The daughter "in search of a usable past" asks, "Why did Moses say at Sinai, 'Go not near a woman,' addressing only men, as if preparation for revelation was not meant for us, as well?" The daughter "who wants to erase her difference" wonders about the importance of women's issues. The daughter "who does not know that she has a place at the table" asks, "What is this?" And the daughter "who asks no questions is told: "From the moment Yocheved, Miriam, and the midwives questioned Pharaoh's edict until today, every question we ask helps us leave Egypt a little farther behind" (Tamara Cohen, Sue Levi Elwell, and Ronnie Horn, eds., The Journey Continues: Ma'yan Passover Haggadah, 1997).

Just as the women defied Pharaoh, so we too as readers must confront and challenge troubling aspects of our sacred narratives. The persistent hardening of Pharaoh's heart results in the Israelites' night of redemption, but we must never forget that this same night was one of horror for the Egyptians. We must continue to ask the questions that preserve our awareness of the Other's story. Did the Israelites hear the tzaakah (cry) of the Egyptians (12:30)? Did it remind them of their own cry--the tzaakah in 3:7 which brought God's attention to their plight? Year after year, as we recall at our seder table the wonders God performed for us, we must remember the price the Other paid for our liberation.

The product of fourteen years of work and the contributions of more than 100 scholars, theologians, poets, and rabbis—all of them women—The Torah: A Women’s Commentary is a landmark achievement in biblical scholarship and an essential resource for the study of the Bible. For more information or to order a copy, visit

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Rabbi Singer currently serves Temple Beth El in Riverside, CA as rabbi and educator.