Pesach is upon us...inviting us to face our personal Pharoahs. The external, historic enslavement of the Jewish people stands as a poignant model for all of our internal enslavements. What emotions, dynamics, addictions are shackling you this year?
Below is a poem about how freedom begins internally, in the home. You may remember it from Parshat Shmot. It is written from the perspective of Puah, the midwife who stands in defiance of Pharoah''s murderous decree to kill Jewish male infants. It is a call for a redefinition of what it means to be a freedom fighter, reframing agitating for social justice in internal terms.

The archetypal Puah is an activist who does not so much take to the streets, as she takes to the kitchen sink, maintaining that all great battles for justice have their locus in the living room. (The poem is followed by a commentary that provides the Torah-based background for this idea of agitating for inner freedom).

 
*
Inner-Freedom
 
Like freedom fighters
who pray with their feet
I protest for inner-peace
 
though paraplegic in comparison
to prodigious heels
of powerful men
 
my prayerful wheels
spin tales of inner-freedom
and intone hymns of mindful treatment
of children and kin
 
I commit to calm the din of crying infants
with the easy clicking of my teeth
I speak for those who do not yet know how to speak
 
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 imprisons our finest hours
of family commitment and contentment
 
I prefer to pedal wares
of wars-well-avoided
where everyone wins
through carefully worded
apologies and the timely
airing of grievances
between friends
 
for cowering beneath the pyramids
of needs – my fiends
are the menacing insecurities of adolescents
and the lethal bickering of parents
- the noisome whines of needy toddlers
and the all-too-common-household-hollers
that oppress our most precious commodities
of family
 
my enemies crouch quietly beneath
the crumbs on the living room carpet
a beast between the sheets
of a cold-shouldered bedroom
where partners sleep
unconscious
and deeply out of tune
with the exquisite call
of their common dreams
 
I come to loosen the shackled lips
of fathers and mothers
that they may better utter
their astounded praise
at the miracle of a house full
of filthy shoes, spilled soup
and their children''s most innocent mistakes
 
My task is to counter the
armor-clad offensive
against love and friendship
- to incite a protest against
the enslavement of a trillion
inner prophets of tranquility
whose gentle-tongued souls
are daily buried beneath
straw burdens of poor communication
and tossed out with the trashed
afternoons of a mother''s
epic impatience
 
I come to play the Moses of relational redemption
in the face of a sink-full of grimy resentments
 
And so I call forth all fellow
freedom fighters for inner-transformation
midwives with wise hands
toting torahs, toting infants, toting pens
all prayer-footed-protesters
come & herald in
emotional freedom from the pharaonic foe
and let us birth our children
into peaceable homes
 
for when our houses 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 our shoes your off
to walk around
for our houses are the
hallowed ground
from which God speaks
 
So call me Puah,
who quiets the cries
of children, slaves
and the Pharoah
inside

 
About Puah:
 
Shifra and Puah are the plucky midwives who stand in defiance of Pharoah. Pharoah demands that they kill every male child born. They realize that were they to refuse Pharoah to his face not only would they themselves lose their lives, but he would find someone else to do his murderous bidding. Thus, they pretend to follow order, all the while saving the babies lives. When Pharoah calls them back to ask why they have disobeyed him they plead powerless, saying that the Hebrew women are lively and deliver the children before their arrival. Pharoah - apparently - believes them. It seems that these determined midwives have simply talked their way out of trouble.
 
Perhaps it''s no coincidence then that Puah''s name, according to Rashi, comes from her keen ability to speak – most specifically, to speak to and pacify crying babies. She is a baby whisperer – one able to speak to those who themselves are in-fact – unable to speak. Puah, with her inherent ability to communicate with and calm children, stands as an archetypal force of what creates a tranquil home. It is no wonder then that in reward for their defiance, the text tells us that God rewards the midwives with houses. These gift houses, as enigmatic as they may be, make perfect symbolic sense - for midwives work is that of birthing through and sustaining households full of new lives.
Midrash Hagadol shares an illustrative story of Pharoah sending guards to capture the delinquent midwives. It says that God saves the women by turning them into the beams of a home. The guards search the house to no avail, for Shifra and Puah have become embedded in the house itself. They are the beams, the fortifying forces that uphold the entire structure.  
 
The midwives thus embody the home and all that it symbolizes – family, communication, and internality. For our homes are the internal spheres from which we impact the outer world. Indeed, in this episode, these internally-oriented women 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, their story is “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.
This year, how are you agitating for freedom?
 


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