Users of the evening prayer readings are well into Exodus now, but remember the beginnings of the Moses story; the midwives (named); the mother, sister, princess... and here, in the early section of "The Particulars of Rapture", Zornberg comments on the place of women in Biblical narrative:page 9:
"...Women's story can be seen, then, at last in certain critical junctures, as the repressed narrative of the biblical text. Midrash retains the traces of that narrative and brings it to consciousness, with marked effects on the manifest level of meaning. All the midrashic narratives about women, indeed, can be registered in this way: the women's mirror-play with their husbands in Egypt; the rich material on the experience of women at the Red Sea and on Miriam's song/dance; [note the oldest written text in "western" culture]: Miriam's well and its disappearance; and the strange emphasis on the female role in Korah's rebellion. All construct a counter-reality to the one officially inscribed in the Torah; all expose a complex ferment disguised by the lucidity of the text. Like the unconscious in the psychic economy, women remain a latent presence in their very absence; they represent the "hidden sphere" which must remain hidden if it is to do its work with full power, but which must be revealed in some form if that work is to be integrated."
"If women form the unconscious in the biblical story, the place where they come to light is the midrashic narrative. We have suggested that midrash articulates the unconscious of the text: the hidden narratives, almost entirely camouflaged by the words of the Torah, emerge from the spaces, from the gaps in meaning, from the dream resonance of those words ('no man, not no woman...'). This tradition of reading is intensively developed in a later period by the chasidic masters, who treat the midrashic texts as having, in their turn, emerged into conscious meaning, and who play with the latent meanings within and between those texts."
Ultimately, conscious and unconscious layers of meaning inform one another; the written and oral Torah are not separated by an impermeable wall. The conscious level alone, the written text with its plain meaning, [peshat], the undifferentiated history of the Israelite people in the wilderness, would provide a sterile version of the Exodus. It is the interplay of conscious and unconscious motifs that makes for the grand narrative, which is capable of providing the matrix within which future narratives can take shape. The "particulars of rapture," in Wallace Steven's phrase, can evolve only when: 'Two things of opposite natures seem to depend on one another'..." (page 10)
This may help us to understand what Zornberg is doing …
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, "The Particulars of Rapture" Reflections on Exodus, (2002, Image/Doubleday)