Rabbi David Walk
As the presidential primary season heats up here in the
It would appear that he failed because of a coalition of female forces. I would like to think that the midwives refused to participate in this heinous deed, because of their dedication to this life giving profession. However, I have a strong suspicion that it was their spiritual, feminine side which induced this brave act. The verse relates that they saved the babies because they feared God (Exodus 1:17), rather than had professional scruples. Also, we have more examples of women saving communities in our Bible (Judges 9:53 and II Samuel 20:15-22). But the greatest reason that I think their behavior was gender based is the continuation of the story.
Before I make my case, allow me, dear reader, a short digression. Who were these midwives? The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, claims that these women named Shifra and Puah were really Yocheved and Miriam, Moshe's mother and sister respectively. The Midrash often tries to combine Biblical characters. I think this was to cut down on production costs for any plays, movies or television series based upon these events. Most of the literalist interpreters of the text (like the Abarbanel and Rabbi Shmuel David Luzatto) disagree and claim that these were Egyptian health care professionals. This makes sense for a number of reasons. First how reasonable would it be for Pharaoh to expect the Jewish midwives to kill Jewish children? Secondly, Miriam would be about four years old, and, therefore, still in medical school kindergarten. Finally, it fits in with the point I want to make.
Now we can go back to the story. When Pharaoh's secret plot to kill the Jewish boys fails because of the moral strength of the midwives, he inaugurates a public initiative for his entire people (1:22) to throw every Jewish male baby into the
Long before the Nuremburg trials established that certain orders are too immoral to be carried out, the women of
I have always felt that it's extremely important that there are so many female role models in our Bible. They provide the paradigms for our daughters to emulate. However, it's also critical to identify more general behavior consistent with tendencies within the genders. Then we can make value judgments praising or criticizing, and, more importantly, encourage or discourage those acts. Here, I firmly believe, we must push everyone to copy this pattern of compassion and benevolence first exhibited by the women in
Laws in any society are often written based upon policy goals, without regard to the ethics or morality of the legislation. Governments don't have consciences. People do. We are required to follow the laws of the land to the extent that these laws are moral. The important concept of civil disobedience wasn't invented by Henry David Thoreau, but by the women of
You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParshafirstname.lastname@example.org