By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
When Yaakov's family settled in Egypt, they were but a small
nation of seventy souls (Shemot 1:5). However, after the death of that
generation, the nation grew:
And the Children of Israel were fruitful, and they teemed, and
increased, and they became very, very strong; and the land became filled with
them (verse 7), thus fulfilling Hashem's promise to
Fear not of descending to Egypt, because I will make you into a
great nation there (Bereishit 46:3).
Pharaoh regards this rapidly multiplying, emerging nation-within-a-nation as a
And he said to his people, “Behold the Children of Israel are
more numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us act wisely towards it [the
nation], lest it become numerous, and it may be that if a war will occur, it,
too, may join our enemies and wage war against us and go up from the land”
As Ohr HaChaim (R. Chaim ibn-Attar, 16th century) points out,
the Children of Israel have already demonstrated that they do not intermingle
with the Egyptians. Consequently, in the event of Egypt being attacked by
another people, the Children of Israel cannot be counted upon to defend their
host nation. The Children of Israel might serve as a demoralizing force within
Egypt; worse still, they might join Egypt's enemies. Therefore, Pharaoh must
emphasize that they are not equals, but a barely-tolerated alien nation. Above
all, the rampant growth of the Children of Israel must be stopped.
And they appointed tax collectors over [the nation] in order to afflict it (ANNOTO)
with their burdens; and [the nation] built storage cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and
Raamses (verse 11).
According to Chizkuni (R.Chizkiya ben Manoach, 13th century), the primary goal
of Pharaoh's plan is to impede the Hebrews' population explosion. ANNOTO (root
word AYIN-NUN-HEH, to deprive, afflict) can refer specifically to celibacy, just
as Lavan made Yaakov swear that he would not neglect Rachel and Leah: If you
will deprive (T'ANNEH) my daughters (Bereishit 31:50). Pharaoh expects the
Children of Israel to be so exhausted by their toils that they will all but
refrain from marital relations. This, says Chizkuni, is the realization of the
final element of the Covenant Between the Parts:
and they shall afflict (V'INNU) them (Bereishit 15:13).
This is also seen in the interpretation of the Passover Haggadah of Devarim
“our affliction this refers to the disruption of marital
However, Hashem promised that Yaakov's children would become a great nation in
Egypt, and so:
But as much as they would afflict (Y'ANNU) it [the nation], so
would it increase and so would it burst forth; and they were disgusted because
of the Children of Israel (verse 12).
Thus, the Egyptians intensify the workload:
And the Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing labor. And they
embittered their lives with hard work, with mortar and with bricks, and with
every labor of the field; all their labors that they performed with them was
crushing labor (verses 13-14).
But this, too, is of no avail, so Pharaoh employs more drastic measures:
And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives the name of one was Shifrah
and the name of the second was Puah and he said, “When you assist the Hebrew
women and you see on the birthstool; if it is a son then you shall kill him, and
if it is a daughter, she shall live” (verses 15-16).
Pharaoh commands the secret killing of the baby boys, so as to remove potential
soldiers from the midst of the Hebrews. The women, he thinks, would not fight.
Once again, Hashem acts to fulfill His word, this time through His human
But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of
Egypt said to them, and they kept the boys alive. And the king of Egypt summoned
the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this thing, that you have kept
the boys alive?” And the midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are
unlike the Egyptian women, for they are skillful: before the midwife comes to
them they have given birth” (verses 17-19).
Chizkuni explains why Pharaoh does not punish them for their disobedience:
It is impossible for two women alone to assist at all the
births, Pharaoh reasoned, so their claim, that the Hebrew women do not need
midwives, is plausible.
Hashem rewards His representatives, who take great satisfaction as He does in
the continued growth of the nation:
G-d treated the midwives well, and the people increased and
strong. And it was, because the midwives feared G-d that He made houses
(BATIM) for them (verses 20-21).
What are these houses (BATIM), and who made them?
• Rashbam: Pharaoh kept the midwives under "house arrest," so they would not
attend any more births.
• Saadia Gaon (10th century): Hashem provided Shifrah and Puah with protection
from Pharaoh's wrath.
• Ibn Ezra: Since they feared Hashem, and not Pharaoh, Hashem rewarded them with
descendants, as Hashem says regarding David's dynasty:
Hashem shall make a house for you (Shmuel II 7:11).
Chizkuni adds that the account of Moshe's birth (Chapter 2) is the fulfillment
of this reward, since, according to the Sages, these midwives are Yocheved (Shifrah)
and Miriam (Puah). Rashi elaborates that Yocheved's “houses” will be the
dynasties of the Kohanim (from Aharon) and Leviim (from Moshe), while Miriam's
“house” will be monarchy the Davidic kings, who will descend from her union with
Chur (Sotah 11b).
And Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, “Every son that will be born, into
the river shall you throw him, and every daughter shall you keep alive” (verse
But, despite Pharaoh's schemes, Hashem keeps His promises: the
nation grows, and their liberator Moshe is born.
Pharaoh chose to fight the Hebrews on the "battlefield" of their fruitfulness.
Naturally, therefore, it is the women whom Pharaoh did not fear who prove
themselves the most stalwart of the young nation's warriors!
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
To merit Israel is to marry the land.
Parshat Shemot is the part of our holy Torah which above all else teaches
us the utter impossibility of ever comfortably settling in a foreign
country. However much Jews try to feel at home in exile, ultimately the
Jewish soul is unable to comply.
The Talmud in Kidushin (2a) refers to the parallel expression of “Kicha”
taking (buying) land and taking (marrying) a woman. Why should buying land
in Israel be compared to marrying a woman? Our sages in their great wisdom
explain the comparison. One does not buy a woman like one buys a piece of
land but one marries a woman with the same love which one feels when one
has the merit to live in the Holy Land. Nowhere is there a deeper bond and
commitment than between married couples. It is the ultimate form of love.
But the love which the Jews show to the land IS comparable to that love. A
Jew marries Israel. He or she does not just settle there.
But for a marriage to succeed one needs to toil all the time, and so it is
with the Land. At the time of the chupah one gives a ring to one’s wife.
But this is only the first installment. So it is with the Land. Buying a
piece of the Land is only the first installment. To stay married to it
demands constant spiritual labor.
This is not the case with Egypt or with exile. One may settle there, but
one never marries such a land.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320