Bulrush Baskets & Badass Women (Exodus 1-6)

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


This transcript was created and edited by the awesome Mary! Thank you!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation.  We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at www.thefaithfulfeminists.com

Hi friends. Welcome back. We're so excited to have you on for this episode today, today we'll be covering Exodus chapters one through six for the dates, March 21st through the 27th, we finished up the book of Genesis, and now we enter into the chapters of Exodus where we meet a whole set of brand new characters. We have a lot of names and a lot of people to get familiar with and a brand new storyline to be working with. So we're excited to dive in. We're so glad you're here. And yeah, time to get started on another book in the Hebrew Bible. 

[00:01:56] Elise: And this week's episode, we'll be talking a little bit about almost every single chapter, because like Channing said, there's a lot going on.  And a couple of things to note here, we have a lot of named women that are active and acting in the text. We also get to meet Moses. And we get to learn a little bit more about the context and history of the oppression of the children of Israel under Pharaoh and Egypt. 

[00:02:18] Channing: So as we dive right into the book of Exodus chapter one, it opens with the story of two women. In fourteen verses Joseph from the book of Genesis has died, the Pharaoh who knew him has also died, and the new Pharaoh fears that Israelites will eventually grow so large in number that they will go to war and overtake Egypt. So this Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites. Verse 13 reads, “and the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage.” The Pharaoh's fears grow as the number of Israelites grow.  So his solution is to send for two Israelite midwives named Puah and Shiphrah. The Pharaoh instructs them to kill all Israelite male babies at birth. Before they even present them to their mothers, but in verse 18, we learn, “but the midwives feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children”. When the Pharaoh realized that male Israelite babies were not being killed as commanded, he asked Puah and Shiphrah to give an accounting for this, why. I really loved Will Gaffney's words, who's the author of womanist Midrash on the Torah. She writes, “Shiphrah and Puah use the Pharaoh's cultural bias against him in Exodus chapter one, verse 19, they say ‘the Hebrew women are brutish, animalistic, not refined, like Egyptian women, their babies just plop right out of them’.” After this Puah and Shiphrah leave the Pharaoh's presence without punishment. And in verse 20, we learned that, “God dealt well with the midwives because they feared God. He made them houses.” In other words, God took care of them. As we come to the end of chapter one, we learn that even with all Puah and Shiphrah’s efforts to preserve the children of Israel. The Pharaoh still wants to see them killed. So he puts out a law that all Israelite male babies should be killed. So kind of an intense chapter we start out in the book of Exodus. 

[00:04:27] Elise: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I wanted to start with is verse eight that says, “now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” This is different than the old Pharaoh or the old king of Egypt who did know Joseph. This new king doesn't know who he is. And from a chapter titled “making noise for social change” by Elliot Kukla, the author writes, “the new leader of Egypt does not have a personal relationship with the Hebrews and sees them as a faceless mob to be controlled, fearing and uprising within the growing group, he begins to repress the people and keep them weak with harsh labor.” And in the next few verses, we hear what that fear stems from. We see the Pharaoh is fearful of losing power because the scriptures lay out that the children of Israel are more and mightier than they are. Pharaoh fears that the Hebrew people might turn against this corrupted system, like in the scriptures that says if a war happens, the king of Egypt is fearful that the Israelites will join their enemies. We also see that Pharaoh's fear comes from the perceived threat of losing power over a group of people, because if Pharaoh were to lose power over this group of people, he would cease to be Pharaoh. Thus Pharaoh begins to, “set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens” in order to keep control and to oppress them and to gain wealth because the Israelites are building treasure cities for Pharaoh. And Pharaoh continues to make their lives bitter with hard bondage. And I think that there are some questions we could ask ourselves about this section. We might ask, “How does what I think I know of other groups affect how I think about, talk about and interact with them?” When we simply know about people, our interpretations are often like second, or third hands accounts, or they're heavily influenced by our media and often these representations are then narrow and limited, they lack complexity, and they're super stereotypical. For example, what do we think we know about trans people? Well, if our only touchstone is from popular media, What we think we may know about trans folks is probably stereotypical, limited, and oftentimes super offensive. For example, Glad Media analyzed 102 transgender inclusive TV episodes from 2002 to 2012, and found that trans characters were cast in the role of a victim at least 40% of the time. Trans characters were also cast as killers or villains in at least 21% of the episodes and the most common profession for trans characters was that of sex workers. And so if this is the only thing we think we know about trans people, how do you think that those images and representations and stereotypes will influence the way we think about, talk about, and perhaps even interact with trans folks? 

[00:07:24] Channing: Yeah, that reminds me of that Berne Brown quote, where she says “People are hard to hate close up. So move in.” And I think that this is a really good example of that. I'm also remembering the Ted talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie where she talks about “The story that we think that we know”. And I think a lot of times it just requires listening and trusting and believing people's experiences and getting to know them on a one-on-one individual level, to recognize that these people that we think are so different from us and we're so afraid of when we think, oh, we have nothing in common, if you were to sit down, share a meal, maybe a cup of tea, maybe, swap stories about our lives and our shared experiences, we will realize they're really not that different from us. 

Another question that we could ask about this chapter is, when my power control or privilege feels threatened, how do I double down and make life “bitter with hard bondage” for marginalized groups? Oftentimes a leveling out of power can feel like a loss for those who have held power all their lives. So how will I respond? How can I respond?  

[00:08:43] Elise: I like that question. And some of the things that come to mind when I think of like power and control and people kind of like tightening their grip or doubling down to make sure that their systems of power aren't disrupted. I'm sure many of you know, if you basically follow any LDS person on Instagram right now, or if you follow us, what we're seeing right now is the Church as a system, feeling threatened by conversations and music and art about Heavenly Mother. And so we see this threat of doubling down and restricting all types of conversation about Heavenly Mother within the church.

Another example that comes to mind is the, “Don't Say Gay” bill in Florida, that bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools. I think with both of these examples and many, many more, we see just how tightly oppressors and oppressive systems want to hold onto their power at any cost.

[00:09:39] Channing: Yeah. And we see it too, like another one that comes to mind, like here in Utah, we're seeing a ton of parent pushback on critical race theory. And I know it's not just in Utah, but it's everywhere. And it comes from the fear that if everyone has power, then it means that someone else loses some. And so there's this tendency to like, tighten our grip to say like, oh, I already feel like I don't have any, so I want to hang on to what I do have, and maybe prevent people from, you know, what I perceive as them taking more. When really at the end of the day, Power is meant to be shared because it's a gift and in community we're always more powerful together. And so I like this question of recognizing like, Ooh, where do I feel resistance in my body? Where do I feel afraid when I hear things that challenge me or asking me to take a different perspective and how can I step away from the fear of losing power and step into the perspective of what can I offer here and what can I understand here and how can this help me and my community grow? 

[00:10:45] Elise: A little bit later in the same chapter, we are introduced to Shiphrah and Puah that Channing talked about at the beginning of the section. Because Pharaoh is paranoid and fearful of the Israelites, he approaches the Hebrew midwives to demand they kill all of the boys that are being born. But Shiphrah and Puah in verse 17, “feared God and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they saved the men children alive.” But then when the king of Egypt calls them to task and asks, Hey, what are you doing? Why are you directly disobeying my command? What we see emerge as this really beautiful scene of fearlessness and the classic trickster that we've talked about in previous episodes, we see Shiphrah and Puah move as tricksters who craft a story about the Hebrew women being so lively that they deliver the children before the midwives even arrive. And God is really, really pleased with this verse 20 says, “therefore, God dealeth well with the midwives and the people multiplied and waxed very mighty, and God makes them houses”. Like Royal houses or Royal lineage. Of this story Reverend Dr. Wil Gaffney asked some questions to help us play and imagine their story, the story that probably hasn't been told. Gaffney writes, “Were Shiphrah and Puah Hebrew women or women who provided midwifery services for the Hebrew people, because the Hebrew language is ambiguous in this text. Their names are Semitic. Shiphrah's name means “to be beautiful” in Hebrew, and “to be pleasing” in Aramaic, perhaps like the word Sapphire. Puah’s name might be Ugaritic for “girl child” like Nina in Spanish or Walita in Arabic.” Gaffney continues to ask, “What does it mean that Pharaoh spoke to Shiphrah and Puah in person? Did he know them? How did he know them or know of them? What did it mean for them to speak to a man who was a living God in their world?” 

[00:12:42] Channing: We also gain more perspective on Shiphrah and Puah from the Jewish women's archive. According to one rabbinic position, “Shiphrah and Puah were mother and daughter. This could mean that perhaps they are similar or the same as Jochebed and Miriam. Or in another view, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law like Jochebed and Elishiba, daughter of Amminadab. This interpretation comes from verse 21 in chapter one, where God establishes households for them because of their righteous actions, which were understood as Royal households. This in turn led to conclusions that the midwives were related to the leadership of the generation that went forth from Egypt, along with the priests and Levites. Jochebed, Miriam, and Elishiba were indeed related to these leading families”.

 In another tradition Shiphrah and Puah are read as non-Jewish wives who are said to be pious women and true converts. So the phrase “the Hebrew midwives” gets read as the midwives of the Hebrew women. There's also a really beautiful article written by Liz on the Exponent II blog. Liz, we don't know your last name, but thank you for all of your work on your article, titled “Women of the Bible Series: Shiphrah and Puah”. Liz presents the idea that perhaps Shiphrah and Puah, weren't just midwives, but overseers of the Guild of midwives in the area, this may explain why Pharaoh talks directly to them. If they were the overseers or leaders or Crohns of the midwives, then they probably knew just how much influence they had. The other midwives were watching and could follow suit. And I will say, Dr. Reverend Will Gaffney is of the same opinion in her book, “Womanist Midrash”. And I really love the imagination and creative retelling of this story. So definitely check that out. 

[00:14:39] Elise: From this article we also learned that maybe Shiphrah and Puah were more fearful of having to stand accountable to God than they were fearful of standing up to Pharaoh, which says a lot, because they could lose their lives for disobeying Pharaoh. From the article, Liz writes, “In fact, many scholars mark this as the first recorded instance of civil disobedience and that their rejection of this governmental decree was not just personal, but overtly political.” According to Hebrew Bible scholar James Ackerman in his essay, “The Literary Context of Moses's Birth Story”, Ackerman writes, “Rather than cower before the most powerful man on earth, they defend themselves with straight faces against Pharaoh's charge of insubordination. Their lives were at stake. And yet they're sly comparison between the vigorous Hebrew women and the pampered Egyptians comes through as a totally credible story to the wise king. We can imagine him saying, oh yes, of course. That would be a problem. Wouldn't it? And there is a great relish in this uneven conflict between the elite and the crude, but shrewd, vital and resourceful, oppressed. The king fails to realize that not only is he being deceived, but he's also being mocked.” I like these two bits of commentary so much because we can see Shiphrah and  Puah having full knowledge of what they're doing. Even though they understand the consequences, they still know that somehow they can use their wit, their cleverness, their cunningness, whatever power or influence that they have within Pharaoh's court, and over these, this guilt of midwives they're using all of their means to stand up for justice and do what’s right. 

[00:16:23] Channing: Yeah. And I mean like how easy could it have been for them to say like, well, if we don't do what he says, we'll just die. Like, and just tell themselves, or buy into the story that they don't have power, that there's nothing they can do, that they're trapped in this situation, we just have to follow orders. And I, yeah, same as you. I love this story. I love seeing the different ways that their talents come into play like, not only do Shiphrah and Puah like, do amazing things, helping the women in their community, but they're also incredibly clever, incredibly subversive, and they are willing to step in and take the risks, come what may. And I think that those are definitely women that I would want to model my life around. 

[00:17:12] Elise: And I think that makes the rest of this story towards the end of the chapter, like confusingly disappointing because even though Shiphrah and Puah stood up to Pharaoh and tried to fight against an oppressive system, generations of male children still ended up being killed. But I don't think that that should discourage us from learning from them. And also we might be able to learn a lesson about pastoral care from these women, because we see these women working as a team. Even though Shiphrah and Puah are the named heroines of the story, we can easily imagine a full group of midwives, a coven even, planning and conspiring, organizing, and mobilizing together. We can see midwives as those who seek to preserve health and ensure safety by attending to, listening and witnessing. In that same article Liz writes, “Birth is transformation and midwives attend to that transformation.” So I really appreciate seeing care and sisterhood here on both an individual and the systemic level. Shiphrah and Puah and the midwives seem to recognize that personal experience is powerful, but it's even more powerful when it pushes you toward political action that has the potential for liberation. 

[00:18:27] Channing: I've really appreciated studying and looking at the story of Shiphrah and Puah. And they are just the beginning. We see a lot of women at play in the opening of Exodus. It's densely populated by active women who shaped the course of history for their peoples. In an essay titled “A Feminist Conspiracy” by Reverend Melanie L McCarley, they write, “And now more women come to the scene to defy the order of a murderous Monarch, who are they? Certainly the midwives, but also the mother of a baby who will eventually be named Moses. His sister. Pharaoh's own daughter and her ladies-in-waiting. Notice they're all women and notice also these women come from all stratas of society from the lowest of the low, the slaves to the daughter of Pharaoh himself. Think of this as one of the first recorded feminist conspiracies in history. And it's right here in the Bible.” And that leads us really nicely as we move into chapter two of Exodus. This chapter again opens with another woman's story. This time we encounter Jochebed, a Levite woman who conceived and bore a son and hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer, she took the baby and placed him in a woven basket and sent him down the river with nothing but a prayer. As the baby traveled down the river in verse four, we read, “and his sister stood afar off to know what would be done to him.” And the sister is Miriam and we will discuss her more in next week's episode. Coming back to the text. The baby in the basket is discovered by one of Pharaoh's daughters and she has compassion on the baby and decides to raise him. Miriam who's nearby offers to find a woman to nurse the baby. The Pharaoh's daughter agreed and Miriam brought back Jochebed. And again, we see here so many women acting, moving, speaking, and making change within the text. And the first one that we come across is Jochebed, Moses's mom. And my favorite thing about Jochebed is her bravery. And the lessons that I think that we can learn from her example is commitment to children and commitment to family as a type of resistance. The lesson that really sticks out to me from Jochebed’s story in the text is the idea that when your people are collectively experiencing genocide and infanticide, investing in and protecting the next generation is a type of resistance. And so it's not necessarily like we're celebrating Jochebed because she had a baby, we're celebrating her for her commitment to raise and protect the children that she did have in order to invest in the future generations. And I do think that that is a type of resistance that we definitely can celebrate within the text. I'm also reminded too that I have my own role as a mom and someone who's deeply involved in caretaking children. And I think that in general, childcare is honorable, valuable and necessary work, and it's not work that everyone is willing or able to do and do well. It's also not gendered work. Effective parenting is built on a foundation of strong values, vulnerability, connection, commitment and consistency. These attributes have no gender. And so part of me in talking about Jochebed and celebrating her motherhood as resistance, I don't want to, there's a part of you that, like, really fears equating having babies with resisting patriarchy. I think that it can be that case, but it is not always that case. And what makes the difference is when we raised children and are invested in their, when we're invested in our children's lives and their personal growth beyond just what we can see in the here and now, we really do invest in a future society that can be more inclusive, more radically welcoming, and more safe for everyone. One of the questions that we get a lot from women in our community is can I be a stay at home mom and be a feminist? And our answer is always yes, traditional gender roles can be performed in non-traditional ways. And I think that we can see an example of that in the figure of Jochebed. 

[00:23:00] Elise: Something else that I think we can notice and learn from Jochebed is the importance of raising children in community with other women and other people. And even a step further than that, I think a conversation about reproductive rights could be had if in your own personal study or in lessons that you're teaching, we might ask things like who has power means and support to keep and raise their children and who does not? What systems are in place that make it difficult for people to raise children as whole thriving beings?

[00:23:30] Channing: I think I'm also remembering too, that midwives, yes, their primary job is to attend births and facilitate births of all babies and all women that they attend to. But that's not their only job, literally just like, exactly like women's healthcare is today. The midwives' job was to facilitate reproductive rights in ancient times. And so whether that meant supporting a birth or whether that meant supporting or facilitating an abortion, whether that meant supporting and facilitating birth control, the midwives were there to do it all. And so in the triad, maybe, of Shiphrah, Puah, and Jochebed, we can see women supporting women in their reproductive choices, no matter the cost. And yeah, there's so many lessons we could learn from that.

 We also get our first mention of Miriam in this story, and we're not going to spend a lot of time with her today because she features a lot more heavily in upcoming narratives. But I did feel really excited to see her function in the text as a caretaker and a watcher and someone who's carefully, and as someone who is aware of the details of people's lives. Miriam is a prophetess. And I think that we can see her as a prophetess in infancy in these chapters. And it's really exciting to watch her grow through the upcoming chapters in Exodus. And finally, in this section, we encounter Pharaoh's daughter. When Moses arrives to her riverside, in a basket, she takes compassion on him and says, okay, I'll raise this baby. And I think, I think a lot of times in LDS, retellings of this story, we miss just how radical this move was, like, this was a huge deal. I think sometimes we forget, like in saying like, oh, well God coordinated it all and it worked out fine and like, look how clever it is. But a choice was made in that moment when she pulled that baby from the basket. The choice was that she would spend her privilege as an Egyptian woman to raise a child that she knew was Hebrew, that she knew was an Israelite. And she stepped in and said, I will care for this child as if he were my own. And I think that there's a lot of lessons for us to learn from the figure of Pharaoh's daughter. I'm thinking specifically about anti-racism and anti-homophobia efforts. In what ways do I hold privilege? Like these are questions that we can all ask yourselves. In what ways do I hold privilege, where I could literally step in and say, I will care about these issues as if they were my own? And spend a lifetime investing in and caring for these issues and wanting them to succeed and wanting these people to be loved, well fed, taken care of. And I also think, like, we could take this metaphor even further. It's not like Pharaoh's, daughter's like, okay, I'm going to do it all. I'm going to do it all on my own. No. What she does is she reconnects Moses with his community, with his people, with his mother. And she says, I recognize that I am not the only person that you need in your life. So here, form relationships, be with your people, have a community outside of me. Because someday you're going to need that. And I think the story of Pharaoh's daughter is so full of potential for understanding the ways that we can function as allies and effective accomplices in social justice settings. And it primarily relies on caring for these people and caring for these issues as if they were our own.

 From this point in the story, and this point in the episode, we want to cover a little bit more summary about the chapters and, and have a discussion about Zipporah, the other woman who shows up in this text. And then afterward we'll focus on the chapters generally, having a discussion about the God of liberation who finally shows up here in the text. And we're so excited. So to finish out chapter two, after Moses is raised by Pharaoh's daughter and entire lifetime passes in like 14 verses. It's a very quick time. When Moses is fully grown, he kills an Egyptian guard for smiting a Hebrew man. Because of this Moses flees Egypt, fearing for his life. He runs away to a place called Midian. And while there marries a woman named Zipporah, who is the daughter of the priest of Midian. Eventually back in Egypt, the Pharaoh dies and the burden on the Israelites becomes greater. In verse 23, the text says, “and the children of Israel side by reason of their bondage and they cry. And their cry came up unto God and God heard their groaning and looked upon the children of Israel and had respect unto them.” In the next chapter, we have the iconic story of Moses encountering God through the burning Bush. After his conversation with God in the burning Bush, Moses brings his wife and sons to Egypt because God said, go and do. Moses was like, I will do. But on the road they run into trouble. The problem was that circumcision was required to fulfill the Israelite covenant to God. But Moses was uncircumcised. From what we can gather in the text, God requires circumcision before Moses can go to Egypt to fulfill God's commandment. The requirement is so serious that in verse 24 we read, “the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him”. Zipporah, who is Moses's wife, understands the severity of the situation. And so performs a circumcision on her son with a sharp flint stone. The circumcision of her son functions as a symbolic circumcision for Moses as well. Zipporah’s active faith is pleasing to God and God accepts this circumcision and they all continue to Egypt. I really appreciate this story of Zipporah because again, we see a woman acting and speaking and moving with confidence. She speaks so passionately in the text during this circumcision. I can just imagine her in verse 25, it reads, “then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at his feet and said, surely a bloody husband art thou to me.” So he let them go. And then she said a bloody husband thou art because of the circumcision. Like I can just feel the power and the strength behind her words of saying, I know what has to be done. Typically back in those times, the person who performed a circumcision was a man who held the priesthood and Zipporah was neither of those things. And instead of claiming authority by the priesthood, she claimed authority with God in her own right. And on her own terms and said, my faith is what gives me the authority to do this. And so I will do what needs to be done because no one else will do it. And God was like, cool. That's acceptable to me. I'll take it. And I, it never ceases to fascinate me just how I'm literally going to say it. Just how bad ass these Bible women are. We don't, like my four years ago, feminist mind could not wrap my head around, like how powerful these women really are in the text. And I love seeing them acting, moving, speaking, doing what needs to be done. Being brave. And yeah, we, again, get to see that in Zipporah, she has clarity, she understands, she has bravery, strength, and faith, and these are all things that God celebrates and says, yes, your sacrifice is acceptable to me. Oh, so cool. 

[00:31:50] Elise: Like Channing said, the story of Exodus is really starting out super powerfully. And if you can't tell we're very jazzed up, but the story of Exodus is really also a central and an important episode in history because we see God show up finally, and perhaps for the first time, as a God who delivers people from the greatest Empire on Earth and gives them a bounteous land of their own. And this event is not solely for the Hebrews, but it's a manifestation of a liberative plan of God for all people. And the story is also of special importance to black liberation theology and Latin American liberation theology. As we move through the next theme of this section about liberation. I want us to keep in the back of our minds this question, how can the story teach us that liberation is an unfinished project that requires us, in communion with our God of justice and mercy, to act? And how should we respond when we are called into the fight of justice? Also in the story we see really clearly a God who takes sides, a God who intervenes in history, to free the poor and the oppressed out of Latin American liberation theology. We get the phrase, “God has a preferential option for the poor”, which is to say that God will always be on the side of the poor and oppressed. And we see that God show up in big, powerful ways in the story of Exodus. 

[00:33:17] Channing: I think it's really fascinating. How in Genesis, I think you and I were both surprised at the God that showed up in that portion of the text, because I think we went into Genesis expecting an Exodus God. And we didn't find it. And I think we really, that was something that we really grappled with kind of as an overarching theme for Genesis. And so I can kind of send some, both of us, like a little bit of a sigh of relief, like, oh, now finally, like the God, the God that we know. And I'm just noticing that kind of like happening in the back of my mind about like, okay, At some point, I want to return back to Genesis and say, and continue to be surprised by that God, but I also, yeah, I can also, it's almost like this shift and like theme and tone. As we move into Exodus, we see a God who is certain of themselves. We see a God who has a consistent set of values and says, I made a promise, I'm going to keep it. And in so many ways that differs from the God that we saw in Genesis. So yeah, I just want to name even for our listeners and readers, like the text has shifted gears. This is a different book of scripture. And so we're dealing potentially with a different God, whether it's the same God who has changed. You know, whatever, lay whatever meaning you want to talk about. But yeah, I just wanted to name that in case our readers are like, whoa, this feels different because it is different. 

[00:34:41] Elise: One of the things that also struck me that feels maybe that doesn't feel different, but like there's a special emphasis placed on it is that the first cry for justice and like the first cry out against oppression comes from the people. The Hebrew people are aware of their suffering in this story. They're aware of their pain. They recognize the injustice and they're not going to be quiet about it. In chapter two, verse 23, it says, “and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage and they cried and their cry came up unto God, by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob and God looked upon the children of Israel and God had respect unto them.” And we see this kind of repetition, all of these different verbs to describe what type of action that people are taking. They're sighing, they're crying, they're crying so loud that it reaches the heavens, they're growing. And in the book chapter titled “Making Noise for Social Change” that we referred to earlier by Elliot Kukla, Kukla writes “In my reading, the unusual language of this verse implies that while the Hebrew people were crying out collectively, many different types of voices were lifted up to. The image that this passage offers is of a diverse chorus, tenors, Altos, Sopranos, and baritones, groaners, shouters, whalers, and moaners, who all came together to send a harmonized message to the divine to say that it was time for change”. And unlike the Pharaoh who didn't know, or didn't like having a personal relationship with these people, God responds to these cries by knowing the Israelites, hearing their distinctive voices and understanding the particularities of their pain. In verse 25, it says, “and God looked upon the children and God had respect unto them.” So we see here, God hearing and responding to the people's pain. And one of the questions I was working through is how am I accustomed to hearing pain, but not responding? How sometimes do I misunderstand listening to other people's stories of oppression and think, well, that's my action, right? As if all I had to do was listen, as if listening and hearing is the same thing as concrete action that's rooted in liberation. 

[00:37:05] Channing: There's another passage also by Kukla, they say, “this message is relevant for the story of Jewish oppression and redemption, as well as for the history of LGBT liberation. LGBT liberation also includes moments of uncontainable crying out of dissimilar voices. Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman and early gay rights activist, who was at the Stonewall Inn in New York city the night of the riot in 1969, that sparked the modern LGBT liberation movement said in an interview with LGBT activists Leslie Feinberg, “we were not taking any more of the shit. It was time. It was street gay people from the village outfront, homeless people who lived in the park and Sheridan square outside the bar, and then drag Queens behind them and everybody behind us.” (Worker’s World, July 2nd, 1998)”. Kukula continues saying, “the moment that Rivera is describing mirrors, the Israelites calling out in Parashat Shemot: a group of varied and highly marginalized individuals coming together to cry out for change.” And in this way, I think that we can see the cry of the oppressed is reflected not only in our sacred texts, but also in the many historical personal and lived experiences of oppression under systems like white supremacy, colonialism, imperialism, heterosexism, and more.

[00:38:34] Elise: Thank you for reading that and I think we can see really clearly that the word of the oppressed people in this section is the verb cry, to cry out, to groan, to moan, to scream any of those things, to make their struggle known to God. And I also wanted to track other words or characteristics that we see in other major players in this story. And I wanted to turn to God, which in this story we can see as the liberator. So what is the word of the liberator? I think the word or the phrases are, I hear you, I remember you, and I know what to do, and I'm going to keep my promise. This is God showing up who reveals a plan of immediate salvation to Moses. Chapter three verse eight says “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them out of the land unto a good land and a large. Unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” Chapter six, verse six reads, “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will read you out of their bondage and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm and with great judgments.” And we can't look at the word of the liberator or the oppressed without also looking at the words or actions of the oppressor. And I think in this story for Pharaoh, it's more burdens and greater violence. It's a sad kind of reminder to me in this story that oppressors never liberate themselves or others. When a liberating process begins affecting them. Like for example, when the people start to cry out or Moses approaches Pharaoh and people begin to rise up, what does Pharaoh do? He withdraws and he oppresses the people with even greater violence. Not only is this an incredible violence, but it also creates a fear of freedom because of how dangerous the situation gets. At one point, we see the people even complain to Moses in Exodus chapter five, verse 21, which basically says, hello, Moses, you're putting a sword in their hand to kill us. Please stop. You're literally killing us with this fight for liberation, because our situation is getting more and more violent.

Later in the story, which we'll get to either next week or the week after we see Pharaoh's consciousness, continue to be that of an oppressor. Even when he “agrees” to let the people go. In chapter 14, verse five, he says, “what is it we have done? Why have we let Israel go from serving us?”  Pharaoh recognizes, in this moment and throughout all of these chapters, Pharaoh and the system need the Israelites in order to remain in power and powerful over others. And maybe finally, what is the word of the accomplice? I think we see Moses showing up here asking why me? What are you doing? But I'll do the best I can to make this happen. And throughout these sections, we see Moses really doubting himself and feeling quite afraid. Chapter three, verse 11 says, “Who am I? That I should go into Pharaoh? And that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.” A few verses later, we see him asking questions. Like, what do I say to the people, who do I tell them sent me? We hear him at the start of chapter four in disbelief lacking self-confidence. He says, “they will not believe me nor hearken unto my voice.” A little bit later in verse 10, Moses also addresses his disability. He says, I'm not eloquent. I'm slow of speech and of a slow tongue. And perhaps this is a nice moment here to talk about disability, as God explicitly says, that disabled folks are from God and that God is with them. And that the work of justice includes providing proper accommodations. Like we see with the relationship between Aaron and Moses. I like imagining Aaron's role here, not as being one who speaks over or speaks for Moses, but rather a relationship where Aaron knows and trusts Moses. And we see Aaron working alongside Moses. 

[00:42:34] Channing: I really love that perspective on this chapter. Like, looking at, how do we hear the oppressed? How do we hear the liberator? How do we hear the oppressor? And finally, how do we hear the accomplice? What are their words? What are they saying? What are they doing?  And I think that that is honestly a really fascinating way to look at the text and I'm excited to continue to use that lens as we move forward through the year. I think moving directions a little bit. One of the things that we also see Moses doing is he pushes back on God. He doubts and he questions, and maybe we can even see him holding God accountable. Moses reminds God at every turn that God's actions have consequences. And for the first part of this chapter, those consequences have violent effects on the Israelites, as the Pharaoh doubles down on their persecution and oppression. But perhaps what we're both struck by, by the section in this. Wow. But perhaps what Elissa and I are most struck by in this section is Moses's continued, moved toward action. He's committed to the cause of liberation and justice, even if he makes mistakes, even if he feels uncomfortable, even if he doesn't understand each next step, he's also fully committed to listening to the people and using his privilege to work on their behalf in solidarity with them. We want to be really clear here in saying that as people who hold white, cis, able-bodied upper middle-class privilege, it would be a miss of us to identify ourselves with Moses in this story. More often than not, we are the oppressor. We are the Pharaoh as we feel our privilege and power threatens. Where the task masters who find it easier to follow directions or abide by a system of harm, simply because it means we are not the ones suffering the most. And yet I think we can strive or work toward being the Moses, the Aaron, the God, the Shiphrah and the Puah, the Jochebed, the Zipporah, and all of the other unnamed allies and accomplices who fight for justice for the many and not the few.

[00:44:52] Elise: We hope as you're able to listen to this episode and also study on your own that you start recognizing a new God, but also a God that maybe you've known all along. A God that shows up in history who always takes the side of the oppressed and who works for the justice and liberation of everyone.

[00:45:17] Elise: Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminist podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify so other seekers can find us.

[00:45:36]Channing: Financial donations support the many hours of research work and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty-makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends!
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