The Sister of Invention: Passover and Innovation

Archimedes of Syracuse famously said, “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” As we get ready for the redemption of Passover I ponder, what is our responsibility to “move the whole world”? And accordingly I wonder what is our place to stand and what is that lever? What is our position and practice when it come to transforming the world?

For me this comes into focus in reviewing the story that leads us into the Passover narrative. All Israelite boys were being cast into the Nile. Our savior Moshe is the product of vision and tenacity of Yocheved and Amram. And as much credit as the parents deserve, we cannot forget the critical role of his sister Miriam played . There we read:

A certain member of the house of Levi went and took [into his household as his wife] a woman of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”

Exodus 2:1-7

This image captures the nature of how things worked. Moshe could not be hidden any longer and Miriam is depicted in the bullrushes watching over him. But I think there is more happening here.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l said, “Hope, even more than necessity, is the mother of invention.” Hope is huge. Without hope there is no way that Moshe would have been born. And I do not question the role of hope, rather I question the notion of the “mother of invention”. I do not think this would have worked out well if Yocheved was hiding in the bullrushes. How could she ever let her son go? She would have held on to him too closely.

Miriam provides structure in the form of a basket. She also had a capacity of letting go. Literally and figuratively floating Moshe out into the world. She also provided oversight from her perspective in the bullrushes. Like all true innovators she has to let’s go and in that moment a revolution can happen. The bullrushes is her place to stand and Moshe was her lever.

Maybe more than the mother of invention we need the sister of invention. There seems to be a subtle balance between a plan and winging it. We all need the structure of the basket and the flow of the water. Miriam is ever vigilant but also just floats her brother our there. Innovation is held in the balance between structure and creativity. Miriam stands in a place where Yocheved could not and she moved the world.

We should all be blessed to find our place and our lever. From there we can make an offering and move the whole world.

Chag Kasher V Sameakh – have a liberating Passover.


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