Binyan Ariel - Parshas Shemos

Why did the midwives not immediately tell Pharaoh that the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women when he first told them to kill the male children?

(1,17) “But the midwives feared G-d and did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them (אליהן) and they enabled the boys to live. And the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them: Why have you done this thing and enabled the boys to live? And the midwives said to Pharaoh: Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are as skilled as midwives; before the midwives have come to them they have already given birth.”

The Midrash on this posuk comments that the Torah does not use the usual word for to “them” - להן - but instead uses the word אליהן, which implies that Pharaoh was speaking more directly and personally to them. Said R. Yossi bar Chaninah: This teaches that Pharaoh propositioned them but they refused him.

But what does the Torah wish to teach us by alluding to this? It cannot be in order to relate the praises of the midwives or the contempt of Pharaoh, because the Torah tells us explicitly about the righteousness and goodness of the midwives and the wickedness and evil deeds of Pharaoh.

It seems to me that the posuk is coming to answer the difficulty that many commentaries had concerning the conduct of the midwives, which is since we see that when Pharaoh called them and asked them why they had enabled the boys to live they answered him that the Hebrew women were not like the Egyptian women, why did they not answer this at the very beginning? When he told them to kill every male child they should have responded: Our master, the King, what you have asked us to do is too difficult because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, and so we are not able to carry out your command. There are many answers given to this question.

But it seems to me that the most correct explanation is that when he propositioned them and they did not wish to comply, the very best thing for them to do was to keep quiet, because at that time they would have been afraid that he would become extremely angry at their refusal and kill them. Therefore, they did not answer him concerning the killing of the boys and thereby he was calmed enough not to kill them, because he thought that through them his plan to destroy the Jews would be fulfilled. And after more time passed the king's anger subsided completely.

This then is the explanation of our posuk: “But the midwives feared G-d” - testifying that they already feared Hashem at the time that Pharaoh asked them to kill the male children, and that from the outset it never occurred to them to do what he said, G-d forbid. And in case you wonder if so, why did they keep quiet and not immediately reply to him that the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, the posuk immediately answers this by saying that “they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them” - concerning his propositioning them, and so in order to escape with their lives they wisely withheld their response concerning the children in order to calm him until his moment of anger passed.

So seems to me to be the correct explanation of the posuk according to the teaching of Chazal in the Midrash, which is very much needed for the plain explanation of the posuk.

How can Rashi explain this posuk according to an opinion that the gemora seems to have rejected?

(2,6) “And she opened it and she saw him, the child, and behold he was a weeping lad.”

Rashi explained that the phrase “and behold he was a weeping lad” means that his voice was like that of a lad (i.e. he had a deep voice like one whose voice had already broken). But the Ramban asked that the gemora in Sotah 12b writes that this is the view of R. Yehudah, but R. Nechemiah challenged that according to his explanation he was making Moshe Rabbeinu as one who possessed a blemish (since his voice was abnormally deep, and thus he would be disqualified from doing the Levi’s service of singing in the Mishkan), and gave a different explanation of the posuk. So since the opinion of R .Yehudah was apparently rejected, how could Rashi use his opinion to explain the posuk?

But it seems to me that R. Nechemiah challenged R. Yehudah only because it was problematic with R. Yehudah’s opinion elsewhere. But Rashi was able to use the view of R. Yehudah here in accordance with how Rashi explained a different posuk.

Because R. Nechemiah’s challenge that R. Yehudah’s explanation would make Moshe Rabbeinu ineligible to perform the service of a Levi could be countered from the gemora in Zevachim 101b where Rav taught that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Kohen Gadol. And we hold that a Kohen who does the service of a Levi is liable to be put to death or at least to receive lashes. Thus, Moshe did not do the Levi’s service of singing, and therefore this blemish of having an unusually deep voice would not disqualify him, because those blemishes which disqualify a Levi do not disqualify a Kohen.

But there in that gemora it challenges Rav from a Baraissa which discusses the posuk in parshas Emor - “His G-d’s food from the most holy and from the holy he may eat” (Vayikra 21:22), which teaches that a Kohen who has a blemish may still eat from the sacrifices, from both those which are most holy and those which are less holy. The Baraissa asks why it was necessary to teach that he may eat from both types of sacrifice, and answered that if the posuk had only taught that that he may eat from the most holy sacrifices I would have thought that the reason is because we find a case where even a non-Kohen was allowed to partake of them, and therefore they are permitted to a Kohen who has a blemish. But since we do not find a case where a non-Kohen was allowed to partake of the less holy sacrifices, I would have thought that they would be forbidden to a Kohen who has a blemish. Therefore the posuk needed to teach both.

From this the gemora challenges Rav’s opinion that Moshe was a Kohen by suggesting that the case where we find that a non-Kohen was allowed to partake of the most holy sacrifices was the offering that Moshe partook of on the eighth day of the consecration of the Mishkan. This would seem to prove that Moshe was not a Kohen. But the gemora counters this challenge by stating that the case where non-Kohanim were allowed to partake of the most holy sacrifices was during the time period when offerings were permitted to be brought on altars outside of the Mishkan. On such altars the sacrifices could be offered by any firstborn, even a non-Kohen, and since they were permitted to offer them they were also permitted to partake from them. And amongst the offerings which could be brought on such altars was the meal offering which is a most holy offering.

However, whether or not meal offerings were allowed to be brought outside of the Mishkan is subject to dispute, and so the above explanation is only according to the view that they were permitted to be brought there. But the gemora in Zevachim 119b writes that R. Yehudah holds that they were not allowed to be brought there. Therefore he must explain that the case of the Baraissa where a most holy sacrifice was permitted to a non-Kohen was that of Moshe.

Accordingly, R. Nechemiah is well justified in challenging R. Yehudah, that according to his view that meal offerings could not be brought outside the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbeinu was not a Kohen but only a Levi, and so his explanation of the "a weeping lad" makes Moshe as one who has a blemish and thus disqualified to do the Levi's service of singing.

However, Rashi in parshas Emor explained the necessity of the posuk to teach both types of sacrifices according to the view that meal offerings could be brought on altars outside the Mishkan, and therefore we can say that Moshe was a Kohen. Thus Rashi is able to explain here that “a weeping lad” means that he had the deep voice of a lad without facing the difficulty that R. Nechemiah raised against R. Yehudah.

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