Shemot 5764 – Gilayon #325
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THE DAUGHTER OF PHARAOH CAME DOWN TO BATHE IN THE
NILE. SHE SPIED THE BASKET AMONG THE REEDS AND SENT HER SLAVE GIRL TO FETCH IT.
WHEN SHE OPENED IT, SHE SAW THAT IT WAS A CHILD, A BOY CRYING. SHE TOOK PITY
UPON IT AND SAID, "THIS MUST BE A HEBREW CHILD." THEN HIS SISTER SAID
TO PHARAOH'S DAUGHTER, "SHALL I GO AND GET YOU A HEBREW NURSE TO SUCKLE
THE CHILD FOR YOU?"
Human Compassion Knows No Bounds –
Righteous Gentiles Have a Share in the World to Come.
Nine entered the Garden of Eden while still alive,
they are: Hanokh ben Yered,
Elijah, the Messiah, Abraham's servant Eliezer, King Hiram of Tzor, the Cushite
king's servant, Ya'avetz son of Rabbi Yehudah
ha-Nasi, Pharaoh's daughter Bitiyah, Serah daughter of Asher, and according to
some, even Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
(Masekhet Derekh Eretz
Zuta 1: 8)
And his Judahite wife bore Yered father of
Gedor, Heber father of Soko, and Yekutiel father of Zanoah. These were the sons
of Bitiyah daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered married.
Chronicles 4: 18)
These were the sons of Bitiyah daughter of Pharaoh,
whom Mered married Why did they call his wife a Judahite? Because she
rejected idolatry, as is written: The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe
idols of her father's house. Bore [Yered
father of Soco..]? She only raised him! This
teaches us that scripture views one who raises a boy or girl orphan in his
house as if he bore them. Yered is Moses, and why was
he called 'Yered'? Because manna
came down [yarad] for because he fenced in Israel's promiscuity.
because he fenced in Israel's promiscuity.[He was called] Heber because he attached [hiber]
like a sukkah to
days. [He was called] Zanoah
because he caused Israel's sins to be neglected [hizniah]. [The
verse mentions three times] father of. father of,
father of, – a father in Torah, a father in wisdom, a father in
prophecy. These were the sons of Bitiyah daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered
married- Was his name Mered? Wasn't his name
Kalev?! The Holy One Blessed Be He said: Let Kalev, who rebelled [marad] against the Spies' plan come
and marry the daughter of Pharaoh, who rebelled [mardah]
against the idols of her father's house.
against the idols of her father's house.
OPPOSE AN ORDER, DISOBEY IT
We read in the Talmud the principle that "the law
of the kingdom is [binding] law" ("dina demalkhuta dina" in Aramaic). This principle guided generations
of diaspora Jews as they dealt with the laws they
encountered in exile. It is a remarkable principle in several ways. The
principle that "the law of the kingdom is law" (due to the Amora Shmuel and cited in Gitin 10b, Nedarim 28a, Baba Kama 113a and
Baba Metzia 54b,55a) does not have a scriptural or mishnaic
source; it originated in the historical experience of the Jewish communities in
Babylonian exile. Despite the lack of textual support, it won universal
acceptance among Jews; the early codifiers of the halakha
wrote, "We have not found anywhere an objection to this halakha". Originally, the principle applied only to
the king's laws, yet in time it extended to the law of states that were not monarchies.
It applies to statutory laws concerning monies, taxes, land, and so on, but not
to religious ritual (permitted and forbidden practices). It also does not apply
to laws that are inherently arbitrary and discriminatory; see Maimonides, Mishna Tora, Gzelah, Chap. 5, halakhot 12-14. The rabbinic sages, with their dialectical
sophistication, ruled that we must honor the government and acknowledge its
authority; at the same time, we must bound and delimit its authority. They
anticipated, to a surprising extent, the great philosophers of modern democracy
(Locke, Mill, Rousseau, etc.) who set limits to the authority of government. Still
it is important to stress that, unlike these philosophers, they did not discuss
the right of the people to rebel against tyranny; indeed, they did not discuss
rights (in the modern sense) at all. We thus find that the sages delimited the
authority of government without undermining it.
The sages saw no contradiction between these two
aspects of their relation to government, between total respect and partial
obedience. On the one hand, government is essential for communal life, lest
every man exploit and murder his neighbor. In the
words of Chananya, the Deputy High Priest, in Pirke Avot (3:2), "Pray
for the welfare of the government, for if people did not fear it, they would
eat each other alive." The government that Chananya
knew was none other than the evil and hated Roman empire,
and yet – pray for its welfare. (Yeshayahu
Leibowitz, Sichot al Pirke Avot veha'Rambam
(Shocken) 1979, p. 43.) On the other
hand, the duty to oppose certain laws (beginning with laws that involve
idolatry, incest or murder) remains in force. Indeed, it is not a question of a
right, but of a duty, to oppose them. (Note
that the famous essay of H. D. Thoreau on disobedience to unjust laws is called
"On the Duty of Civil Disobedience", although it appeared in
Hebrew translation with the name "mered ezrachi" ("civil revolt").)
This clash of values – between the value of government
and higher values – is embodied in the Torah, in this week's portion, in the
figures of the midwives, Shifra and Puah, who refused to carry out the hideous order of Pharoah, King of Egypt, to kill all the male babies of the
Hebrews. Nehama Leibowitz,
in her book New Studies in Sefer Shmot
(Iyunim Chadashim be'Sefer Shmot: be'Ikvot Parshanenu ha'Rishonim veha'Achronim (Jerusalem:
World Zionist Organization, Department of Torah Education and Culture in the
Diaspora).), describes two ancient
traditions regarding who the midwives were.
According to one tradition (due to Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam and Ramban, and based on Sota 11b), they were Jews, and the tradition even identifies
them with Yokheved and Miriam (or Yokheved
and Elisheva, Aharon's
According to the other tradition (due to Philo,
Josephus, Midrash Tadshe, Abrabanel and Luzzatto) they were
Egyptians. The latter tradition is especially interesting here because it
interprets the text as a confrontation between an individual and her own, rather than a foreign, government. It intensifies
the clash of values. But is such an interpretation possible? Exodus 1:15 refers
to "lamyaldot ha'ivri'ot" and the "la" at the
beginning is incompatible with the construct state; that is, it rules out the
translation "the midwives of the Hebrews" (so we are left with the
translation "the Hebrew midwives"). To this argument Luzzatto replies,
This is no argument. True, the text could have read "lamyaldot et ha'ivri'ot"
(the midwives to the Hebrews), but it could also have dropped the
"et" as in (Jeremiah 31:29) "ha'adam ha'okhel haboser".
If this interpretation is possible, then it is also
quite reasonable. How could Pharaoh have specifically chosen Jewish women to
carry out his murderous plan, especially if (as the Ramban
argued) he wanted to keep it secret? Luzzatto further
cites the comment of his disciple Jacob Chai Pardo on Exodus 1:17:
The midwives feared God and did not do as the King of
Egypt told them; they let the boys live.
This verse would not be appropriate for Jewish
If the midwives belonged to another people, their
actions would justify the statement that they feared God; but if they were Hebrews,
there is no need to bring up fear of God; everyone loves his own people.
Nehama Leibowitz adds that in the Torah, the expression "fear
of God" appears in connection with how a nation treats a minority. Abraham
refers to the Egyptians with the words (Genesis
20:11) "I thought, surely there is
no fear of God in this place." Amalek's attack
on the Israelites is described (Deuteronomy
25:18) as "undeterred by fear of
God." And Joseph, acting as the (presumed Gentile) second to the King of
Egypt, says of himself, "I fear God." As Leibowitz writes, the treatment of the stranger who lacks
power and protection is a true test for fear of God. She sums up her study of
the midwives with these words:
If this interpretation is correct, we must consider
that the Torah shows us how, in a sea of evil and tyranny – and just after verse
1:13, which shows Egypt (the kingdom and the people) in their wickedness – an
individual can stand up against evil, oppose an order, disobey it, and not
shrug off the responsibility for murder by saying, "Orders from my
Empathy with the Suffering of Others is the Secret of
Revelation and of Redemption
Rabbi Yanai said: Just as it
is with these twins, that if the head of the one aches, the other feels it as
well, [so too] in a manner of speaking, the Holy One Blessed Be He said, I
am with him in troubles (Tehillim 91:
Another explanation: What does I am with him in
troubles mean? When they suffer adversity, they call only upon the Holy One
Blessed Be He. [So it was] in
to God (Shemot 2:23). At the
Holy One Blessed Be He said to Moses: "Don't you sense that I am steeped
in suffering, just as
you from amongst the thorns; I am, so to speak, their partner in suffering.
(Shemot Rabbah 2)
Even While On the Run, Moses
Does not Desist from Fighting for Justice
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He arrived in the land of
Midian, and sat down beside a well… but the shepherds came and drove them
off. Moses rose to their defense, and he watered their flock (Shemot 2:
15-17). Moses came and sat by the well but
the shepherds came and drove them off. Moses rose to their defense,
and he watered their flock. Moses came and sat in judgment upon them, he
told them: "Usually, men draw the water and women water the flocks, here
women draw the water while the men water the flocks; there is a perversion of
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