(ח) וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃ (ט) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֥ב וְעָצ֖וּם מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ (י) הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יא) וַיָּשִׂ֤ימוּ עָלָיו֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן עַנֹּת֖וֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־רַעַמְסֵֽס׃ (יב) וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (יג) וַיַּעֲבִ֧דוּ מִצְרַ֛יִם אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בְּפָֽרֶךְ׃ (יד) וַיְמָרְר֨וּ אֶת־חַיֵּיהֶ֜ם בַּעֲבֹדָ֣ה קָשָׁ֗ה בְּחֹ֙מֶר֙ וּבִלְבֵנִ֔ים וּבְכָל־עֲבֹדָ֖ה בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה אֵ֚ת כָּל־עֲבֹ֣דָתָ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־עָבְד֥וּ בָהֶ֖ם בְּפָֽרֶךְ׃ (טו) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם לַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֖ת הָֽעִבְרִיֹּ֑ת אֲשֶׁ֨ר שֵׁ֤ם הָֽאַחַת֙ שִׁפְרָ֔ה וְשֵׁ֥ם הַשֵּׁנִ֖ית פּוּעָֽה׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בְּיַלֶּדְכֶן֙ אֶת־הָֽעִבְרִיּ֔וֹת וּרְאִיתֶ֖ן עַל־הָאָבְנָ֑יִם אִם־בֵּ֥ן הוּא֙ וַהֲמִתֶּ֣ן אֹת֔וֹ וְאִם־בַּ֥ת הִ֖יא וָחָֽיָה׃ (יז) וַתִּירֶ֤אןָ הַֽמְיַלְּדֹת֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְלֹ֣א עָשׂ֔וּ כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר דִּבֶּ֥ר אֲלֵיהֶ֖ן מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרָ֑יִם וַתְּחַיֶּ֖יןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִֽים׃ (יח) וַיִּקְרָ֤א מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֔ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֔ן מַדּ֥וּעַ עֲשִׂיתֶ֖ן הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה וַתְּחַיֶּ֖יןָ אֶת־הַיְלָדִֽים׃ (יט) וַתֹּאמַ֤רְןָ הַֽמְיַלְּדֹת֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה כִּ֣י לֹ֧א כַנָּשִׁ֛ים הַמִּצְרִיֹּ֖ת הָֽעִבְרִיֹּ֑ת כִּֽי־חָי֣וֹת הֵ֔נָּה בְּטֶ֨רֶם תָּב֧וֹא אֲלֵהֶ֛ן הַמְיַלֶּ֖דֶת וְיָלָֽדוּ׃ (כ) וַיֵּ֥יטֶב אֱלֹהִ֖ים לַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֑ת וַיִּ֧רֶב הָעָ֛ם וַיַּֽעַצְמ֖וּ מְאֹֽד׃ (כא) וַיְהִ֕י כִּֽי־יָֽרְא֥וּ הַֽמְיַלְּדֹ֖ת אֶת־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיַּ֥עַשׂ לָהֶ֖ם בָּתִּֽים׃
(8) A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. (9) And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. (10) Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” (11) So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. (12) But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites. (13) The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites (14) the various labors that they made them perform. Ruthlessly they made life bitter for them with harsh labor at mortar and bricks and with all sorts of tasks in the field. (15) The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, (16) saying, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, look at the birthstool: if it is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” (17) The midwives, fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. (18) So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, letting the boys live?” (19) The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women: they are vigorous. Before the midwife can come to them, they have given birth.” (20) And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly. (21) And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them.
Exodus Rabbah 1:15
And they let the boys live (Exodus 1:17). Now since they did not fulfill the command, do we not know that they saved the children? Why must the Torah tell us, "And they let the boys live?" It is only to add praise to praise; for not only did the midwives not fulfill Pharaoh's command, they went beyond this and did deeds of kindness. For those who were poor, the midwives would go to the houses of the rich to collect water and food and give them to the poor and thus keep alive their children; this is what is meant by "And they let the boys live..."
Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt.
Midrash Tanchuma Pikudei 9
"These are the records (pikudei) of the Tabernacle": You find that when Israel were in harsh labor in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed against them that they should not sleep at home nor have relations with their wives. Said Rabbi Shimeon bar Chalafta, What did the daughters of Israel do? They would go down to draw water from the river and God would prepare for them little fish in their buckets, and they would sell some of them, and cook some of them, and buy wine with the proceeds, and go to the field and feed their husbands, as it is said, "In all the labor in the field" (1:14).
And when they had eaten and drunk, the women would take mirrors and look into them with their husbands, and she would say, "I am more beautiful than you," and he would say, "I am more beautiful than you."
And as a result, they would accustom themselves to desire, and they were fruitful and multiplied, and God took note of them (pakad) immediately. Some of our sages said, They bore two children at a time, others said, they bore six at a time, yet others said, They bore twelve at a time, and still others said, Six hundred thousands...And all these numbers from the mirrors...
In the merit of those mirrors which they showed their husbands to accustom them to desire, from the midst of harsh labor, they raised up all the hosts, as it is said, "All the hosts of God went out of the land of Egypt (12:41)...
(כ) וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲח֧וֹת אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כָֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃ (כא) וַתַּ֥עַן לָהֶ֖ם מִרְיָ֑ם שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃ (ס)
(20) Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. (21) And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for God has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.
בתפים ובמחלת. מֻבְטָחוֹת הָיוּ צַדְקָנִיּוֹת שֶׁבַּדּוֹר שֶׁהַקָּבָּ"ה עוֹשֶׂה לָהֶם נִסִּים וְהוֹצִיאוּ תֻפִּים מִמִּצְרָיִם (מכילתא):
Rashi: "With drums and dancing.": The righteous women of that generation were confident that God would do miracles for them; so they brought drums with them from Egypt.
Aviva Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, 225-226
All the difference of what the women bring to their Song is crystallized in these drums, expressive of faith in what is not yet...They prepare for miracles: almost a contradiction in terms. They are set for wonder, carrying the instruments of song with them through the corridors of fear. They have always known - at least since the mirror work with their husbands...that the future is incipient in the present.
The fact that "Miriam, the prophetess," leads the women reminds us of her prophetic function in the dark days of Egypt. But, more poignantly, her very name is connected with the bitterness (marah) of those days. The midrash links her, unlike the other redeemers, Moses and Aaron, back to the beginnings of the Egyptian persecution:
"I had no peace" (Job 3:26): from the first decree that Pharaoh laid upon me - "And they embittered (va-yimareru) their lives" (Exodus 1:13)...But then God raised up a redeemer for me - that is, Miriam, named for bitterness."
The very origin of the story of the Exodus is signified by "bitterness." Still nameless, and with this bitterness of her people's suffering in her veins, Miriam rises as a prophetess. She redeems it, but not in a magical sense. She does not make it disappear: rather, she re-deems it, she re-thinks it, she sings it into a different place. Forever, her name will speak of it. Her Song will arise from it, anticipating the future without denying present and past.