DIVREI TORAH

Did They All Hate Us?

We know so much about the bad things that the Egyptians did to us.

As our parsha notes, they “a.”[1]

We don’t, though, know too much about the good that - at least some - Egyptians did for us.

But that Egyptian good existed.

It’s there in the following story: “The king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shifra and the other who was named Puah. And he said, ‘When you deliver the Hebrew women… if it is a boy, kill him….’ The midwives, fearing God, didn’t listen to the Egyptian king; they let the boys live….and [God]..”[2]

The Gemara offers two opinions on these women’s identities. One opinion identifies them as Moshe’s mother and sister, Yocheved and Miriam. The other opinion identifies them as Moshe’s mother and sister-in-law, Yocheved and Elisheva. [3]

According to this Gemara, no matter who these women were, they were Jewish women. And that explains why they risked their lives by flouting Pharaoh’s murderous decrees.

But identifying these women as Moshe’s relatives raises questions: Firstly, would Pharaoh commission Jewish women to kill Jewish babies? Wouldn’t he suspect that Jewish women would protect their own peoples’ children? Secondly, the Torah calls them Shifra and Puah. Those aren’t the names of the Jewish women - Yocheved, Miriam, or Elisheva - whom these midwives purportedly were. If these midwives were, indeed, Yocheved, Miriam, or Elisheva, then why aren’t they identified accordingly?

These questions prompt some to assume that these midwives weren't Jewish.[4] If so, non-Jewish midwives endangered themselves to save Jewish babies. And they endangered themselves, we’re told, because they “feared God.”[5]

These non-Jewish midwives, then, weren’t just good people.

They were also God-fearing.

Egyptian good also displays itself in another aspect of the midwives’ story.

That’s in how Pharaoh wanted the murders to happen surreptitiously: “When you deliver the Hebrew women… if it is a boy, kill him….”[6]

At first, you wonder. Why involve midwives? And why surreptition? Why not just delegate these murders to the royal executioners?

And then you realize. Pharaoh had to be surreptitious.

Because, as the Ramban writes: “Pharaoh …didn’t want to slay them by the sword…the people of the country also wouldn’t have allowed the e the king consent to commit such a crime.”[7]

There must, then, have been a goodly number of moral Egyptian people if they, as a group, could stymie the mighty Pharaoh.

And that’s why next attempt to murder our babies also involved surreptition. That was when Pharah told his people: “Every boy that is born, you throw into the Nile.”[8]

Also in this story, Pharaoh doesn’t call on his royal executioners. And that’s because, also here, Pharaoh feared that the Egyptian population would resist his decree. Which is why, also here, Pharaoh surreptition had arranged pogrom-like, seemingly unsanctioned acts of violence.[9]

And here, too, the Ramban speculates that Egyptian resistance doomed Pharaoh attempt to drown our babies: “Perhaps, when it became known that Pharaoh enacted this decree, Pharaoh revoked it.”[10]

Egyptian good also displays itself in the story about Pharaoh’s daughter.

Pharaoh, as we just noted, had commanded that all Jewish boys be killed. But Pharaoh’s daughter flouted her father and saved an obviously Jewish baby: “The daughter of Pharaoh …. spied the basket among the reeds … she saw that it was a child….she took pity on it and said, ‘This must be a Hebrew child.’”[11]

You read all these stories about exceptional non-Jews and you wonder: Isn’t our parsha – which, more than any parsha, in its agonizing descriptions of persecution – embodies anti-Semitism?

Why, then, is our parsha’s persecutions antisemitic story so overlain with stories about good non-Jews?

Why?

It may, surprisingly enough, be because of all that persecution.

It may be that Hashem is concerned that highlighting all that bad will obscure the good.

And obscuring the good is terrible. For the Egyptians who were good to us. And for us, in how it cuts us off from sources of good.

So our parsha highlights the midwives. The moral Egyptians. And Pharaoh’s daughter. So that we’ll notice the good even when there’s so much bad.

We’re expected, then, to notice good even when there is so much bad. Shouldn’t we, then, be noticing good – today, in our benevolent society - when there’s so much good?

And our society - a society that Rabbi Moshe, famously, called “a kingdom of kindness” [12]- - is a truly benevolent society.

It’s a benevolence that was unimaginable a few decades ago. It includes: Professional schools rescheduling tests from Shabbos to Sunday. Workplaces being obligated to accommodate shemiras Shabbos. Governments regulating kashrus, subsidizing religious institutions and fighting anti-Semitism.

No, our “kingdom of kindness” isn’t Valhalla. Anti-Semitic incidents still haunt 21st century North America. And those incidents raise questions about our “kingdom of kindness.”

But, here, too, focusing on antisemitism can obscure so much good. And that does disservice to our kingdom of kindness’ many good people. And that does disservice to us by closing us off from good.

No, let’s not be drawn into a vortex of negativism.

Let’s, instead, follow our parsha’s dictates and focus on the good.

That will be better for our kingdom of kindness.

And that will be better for us.

[1] Shemos 1:15-21

[2] Shemos 1:15-21

[3] Sotah 11b

[4] Abarbanel, Shemos 1

[5] loc. cit.

[6] Shemos 1:22

[7] Ramban, Shemos 1:10

[8] Shemos 1:22

[9] Ramban, Shemos 1:10

[10] Ad loc.

[11] Shemos 2:4-6

[12] Igros Moshe, Chosen Mishpat 2:29

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