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By: SFW Students & Alumna
Melissa Papir (SFW '09)
Parshat Shemot relays the familiar story about Jewish slavery in Egypt. They were afflicted with back-breaking labor that was imposed on them by Pharaoh. The mission of Pharaoh was not just to destroy the Jewish spirit, but he also sought to kill Jewish offspring. He commanded the two Jewish midwives, Shifra and Puah, to slay the Jewish male infants. These two women, being G-d fearing individuals, refused to be responsible to murder the future of Am Yisroel. Hashem rewarded them for their bravery and Yirat Shamaim, as it says in the pasuk: “Vayitav Elokim Lamiyaldot Vayirav Haam Vayaatzmu Meod; Vayehi Ki Yaru Hamiyaldot Et HaElokim Vayaas Lahem Batim”.
Rashi explains that G-d rewarded the two midwives (whom Rashi identifies as Yocheved and Miriam) with houses; meaning the Cohenic, Levite, and Royal families will stem from them. If this is the case, why is the phrase, “Vayirev Haam Vayaatzmu Meod” placed in the middle of the midwives' description of their reward?
Even though G-d rewarded the midwives with the prestige of having the Cohanim, Levi'im, and Melachim descend from them, this wasn't their real reward. The midwives truly wished that Am Yisroel would grow and increase in great numbers. From the phrase that is added to the pasuk, “Vayirev Haam”, we learn that Hashem granted their wish, the growth of the nation, which was their real reward. The midwives were righteous women, who were selfless and courageous to have ignored the commands of the Pharaoh.
In regard to Pharaoh's plan to execute all the Jewish male infants, why did Yocheved and Miriam deserve such lavish praise and reward for not killing the infants? Homicide is one of the three sins in Judaism that one cannot transgress, even if their life depended on it. Most people wouldn't dare kill another person, especially an infant! Why were they regarded as such G-d fearing individuals?
In normal circumstances, if someone had a difficult mitzvah imposed on them, we wouldn't scold the person if they rejoiced a little bit when the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah disappears. For example, a person who frequently visited a sick patient will not be rebuked by others if the person didn't grieve as much when the patient passed away. The person, in a normal way, is relieved of a burden. Yocheved and Miriam were such G-d fearing people that they would have been upset if an infant died, even from unpreventable and unavoidable circumstances. They didn't want to be suspected of feeling relief for not having to disobey Pharaoh's commandment. Hashem rewarded them for their faith by keeping all the infants alive, as it states,” Vayirev Haam Vayaatzmu Meod”.
Another question arises from this topic: Why does the Torah tell us of the midwives' reward when mankind's reward is given to him in the world to come?
Hashem didn't give them the Cohen, Levi, and royal families as their real reward, but rather, that Hashem deemed them the most appropriate mothers for these prestigious families. Those families require a tremendous amount of Yirat Shamaim. A Cohen and Levi need to both teach the nation and work in the Beit Hamikdash, tasks which require self-sacrifice and an exceptional love for the people. A king has a similar role; he must rule the people with justice and righteousness. His words are law and therefore all of his rulings must be accurately based on Torah. The Torah even has an entire section devoted to the laws of a king in order to prevent potential arrogance and stimulate Yirat Shamaim.
We can see why Yocheved and Miriam, the two Jewish midwives that were employed by Pharaoh, deserved to be the mothers of the Cohen, Levi, and royal families. Even when it became difficult to maintain normal ethical standards, they stayed true and loyal to G-d. Their fear in G-d deemed them worthy to be the foremothers of a never ending lineage of Kedushah and supreme stature. One of the many lessons that we can seek out from this Parsha is that our Emunah in G-d must never fade out. We must stick to what is true and moral, even when it becomes almost impossible to do so.
1: Parshat Shavua