Volume 6 Issue 14
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
It was a test for the ages. The mighty Pharaoh commanded the midwives
Shifra and Puah, known to us as Yocheved and her daughter Miriam, to kill
all the boys born to Hebrew mothers. Not only did they ignore the edict,
they countered it by nourishing the newborns with pacifying words and
comforting amenities food and drink.. The Midrash tells us that they
cared for the sick and unhealthy babies as well, nourishing them with
prayers, and Hashem in heaven did not ignore their actions. But the verses
need some explanation. First the Torah tells us, "And G-d rewarded the
midwives, and the nation flourished and prospered." Only then does it add,
"And it was as the midwives feared Hashem, and He made for them houses."
Rashi explains that both midwives were rewarded for their efforts with more
than physical houses. They were rewarded with houses of Kohanim and kings.
Hashem rewarded them well with generations of kings and priests, Divine
attributes that are perpetuated through the species of humans that the
midwives actually saved male Jewish children! A kohain can only be the
son of a Kohain, and a King can only be a male!
But there seems to be an interruption in the order of the verses. The
words "and the nation flourished” seem out of context. In fact, Rashi is
bothered by the obvious question and explains the verses as follows. "And
G-d rewarded the midwives," and what was the reward? "He made for them
houses." The words "and the nation flourished" are part of the narrative,
an historical footnote inserted into the middle of the episode of heroism
and reward. But the simple, juxtaposed text needs clarification. Perhaps
there is a way to explain the historical insert
More than 10 years ago, my brother, Reb Zvi and his wife had a beautiful
little baby boy. He was truly beautiful. And he was truly little. Five
weeks premature and only two-and-a-half pounds.
For a while it was touch and go. The prayers of a community and thousands
of friends and relatives pulsed the support systems that sustained the
child's short breaths and the parents' deep hopes. For nearly two months
the baby endured in the neo-natal unit under the care of the most
prestigious doctors and devoted nurses that the city of Chicago had to offer.
After two grueling months of prayers, incubators, and devoted healthcare,
the baby arrived home healthy. The joy and gratitude to Hashem was
overwhelming, but the young father did not forget his gratitude and
appreciation to the mortal messengers, the entire medical and nursing
staff, who worked arduously, day and night, to help insure the newborn's
He wanted to express his appreciation in a very special way. He searched
gift shops and bookstores for a proper memento to show his appreciation,
but he could not come up with an appropriate gift.
A few days after the baby was brought home, the young father mentioned his
dilemma to his Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliyahu Svei, Dean of the Philadelphia
"The nurses don't want perfume, and the doctors don't need pens," said
Rabbi Svei. “What they want to see is the continued growth and health of
your child. Every year, on his birthday, bring the child to the hospital
and let the staff share in the joy of his growth and success! That will be
the most meaningful gift you can offer!"
The Rosh Yeshiva explained: Before the Torah mentions an additional reward
bestowed upon the midwives, it alludes to the greater reward that they
truly appreciated. Their efforts towards Jewish perpetuity were not in
vain. The nation prospered. The young babies, whom they worked so
diligently to sustain, grew up. And they married, and they flourished. All
the midwives wanted was the propagation of their nation. And that was their
first reward. The gift of Houses of the Priesthood and the Houses of
Royalty were an added bonus which was Hashem was pleased to deliver. But
as far as the midwives were concerned, the greatest reward was the joy in
seeing that the children they delivered flourished, and that the nation
prospered and grew. All the risks were worth it for that knowledge alone.
And so the Torah tells us, "and Hashem made good for the midwives, and the
nation grew and flourished." For them, that was the greatest reward. The
rest was just icing on the just desserts.
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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