by the Reisha Rav, HaGoan Rav Aaron Levine
Elucidated and Adapted by Efraim Levine
Dedicated in honor of Drs. Lyle and Bat-Sheva Mitzner
Upon their wedding anniversary
To Dedicate Please Contact Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
And the king of Mitzrayim said to the Jewish midwives, whom the name of one was Shifra and the name of the second was Puah. He said, when you assist the Hebrew women at childbirth and you see on the birth stool, if it is a son, you are to kill him and if it is a daughter she shall live. But the midwives feared Hashem and they did not do as the king of Mitzrayim commanded them and they kept alive the boys. (Shemos 1:15-17)
Why does the posuk repeat the expression "and (the king of Mitzrayim) he said." Did not the conversation take place at one point in time? In addition, Why does the posuk hide the identity of the midwives whom we know to be Shifra and Puah? Why does it refer to them in terms of their work, i.e., they beautified and pacified the newborns?
Let us attempt to answer these questions by suggesting the following: The king of Egypt knew that he will not succeed by directly instructing the midwives to kill all male children. The future mothers upon hearing the decree would not allow a midwife to assist in their childbirth. They would attempt to conceal their pregnancies or go into hiding. Therefore, in order to fool the mothers, the king instructed the midwives to follow a two-part plan. Part one of the plan called for the midwives to extend themselves and perform well beyond the call of duty in order to attain an excellent reputation. The normal job of a midwife was only to assist the mother of the child and supervise the birth. After the birth, their job was complete and they were free to leave. The king instructed them to linger on, where they would then have the opportunity to beautify and pacify the child. By performing this extra work, they would attain a spectacular reputation for their devotion and care. This would then result in their services being highly sought after and thereby allowing the midwives to know who are the expectant mothers. After their reputation would be established and they would have all the information they need, then they would be ready for part two. Part two called for the midwives to suddenly deceive the mothers and kill all male children born at that time.
It is important to note that for the period of time of the part one of the plan, many male children would be allowed to live. In the king's opinion this was an investment needed to attain the greater goal of killing out a larger number at a later point. Alternatively, the king's astrologers may have told him that at a specific time the savior of the Hebrews will be born. Thus, the grace period was just a preparation for that specific time.
With this thesis we may now attempt to answer our questions. Our first question was why did the posuk say twice "and he said." The answer is one for each part of the plan. In order to explain we must reinterpret the posuk.
The posuk simply reads: And the king said to the midwives whose names were Shifra and Puah. However we may now interpret this as follows: And the king said to the midwives see to it that your names should be called Shifra and Puah. Even though I am aware that your names are really Yocheved and Miryam, I am commanding you to give the newborn extra special care so that people should call you by the name of your work, i.e., beautifying and pacifying the child. The king then went on to part two with the expression "and he said." He then informed them that the purpose of this trustworthy reputation would be to attain private information that would be essential in implementing the master plan i.e., killing out the male children at the end.
Later upon learning that they failed to kill out the male children the king was not only angry why they failed to fulfill his wish but puzzled as well. He asked the midwives, if you had no intent of fulfilling part two of my plan by killing the male children, why then did you bother to work so hard and fulfill the first part of my plan by performing the extra work. If you planned to rebel against me, what difference does it make how and when you rebel? Why did you trouble yourselves to take extra special care of the newborns? This interpretation can be found in the words of the posuk. The posuk reads "And the king said why did you do this thing and why did you let the children live. Why is the posuk redundant? Why the need for the phrase "why did you do this thing." Would it not have been simpler to state and the king said why did you allow the children to live? The answer is now apparent. The first part of the expression is referring to the extra special work of beautifying and pacifying the newborns and the second part is referring to the second part of the plan. In essence, the king was asking them why did you trouble yourself to fulfill the first part of the decree when you had no intent of keeping the second.
Their response was "The Jewish women are not like the Egyptian women." An Egyptian woman only needs a midwife to assist the mother in the actual birth. Caring for a newborn afterwards is not part of the job. The Egyptians don't care to give the child his basic human dignity of beautifying pacifying him The Egyptians call this "overtime" and are billed accordingly. In contrast, the Hebrew women do not even need midwifes for the actual birth. A Hebrew woman can take care of herself. If you will then ask what then is the purpose of our profession? The answer is we come to provide care for the newborn. What an Egyptian considers a luxury is considered as basic human dignity by a Hebrew child, and that is the purpose of our profession. We beautify and pacify the child. We give the child the basic happiness that a Hebrew child deserves. The midwives were in essence telling the king, don't be puzzled that we have attained a good reputation. It is not as you think that we have exerted ourselves to fulfill the first part of your plan but failed in the second. In truth, we didn't even fulfill the first part because this is what we would have done anyway.