Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Midwives and Crazy People

In Exodus on January 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm
English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, c. 1896-190...

Approached by man in
motley and he says to me
drink this tasty poison.

Its quite good for you
and you’ll never feel better.
I say thanks and leave.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

What does this passage teach?

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them: ‘Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive?’ And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.’ And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses.

Exodus 1.17-21

Why would the midwives apparently lie to Pharoah?  Does our discussion of the white lie apply here or not?  When Joseph’s brothers presented Israel’s alleged statements to Joseph in the last parsha, we assume their intent was to keep peace.  Can we say the same here?

Are the Hebrew women more robust than the Egyptian women?  Why do the midwives deal in racial stereotypes?

Are we supposed to behave based on stimuli or values?  Here it says the midwives feared God, and did not as the king…commanded them.  Did the midwives disobey Pharoah because they fear God?  Or did the midwives fear God, and disobey Pharoah, because this was right behavior in their eyes?  This distinction is subtle, but important.

If you don’t hold steadfast to your values, how do you expect to build a stable home?  Is this why the midwives were made houses after this episode?  Does the phrase made them houses make any sense?  Let’s put it another way:  were the midwives allowed to be fertile and lively because they allowed their sisters to be fertile and lively?  When we steadfastly preserve others’ liberties, do we promote our own?

So, the parsha makes the midwives’ lie not a lie.  The Israelites are granted fertility and livelihood as a result of the midwives actions.  God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.  How is this accomplished?

First we must ask what Pharoah was doing talking with the midwives directly in the first place.  If the Egyptians were adread of the Israelites (Exodus 1.12) why would Pharoah trust the Hebrew midwives (v.15) to do his dirty work?  While we’re at it we should ask: why does Pharoah treat the Israelites as he does?  Was Pharoah provoked?  Where does the Torah tell us this?  How absolutely ridiculous is this situation?

I’d like to share a Zen story.  One day, on market day in a village, someone let a bull loose.  The bull was angry.  He ran up and down an alley destroying stalls and chasing people.  The villagers brought the local wise man and said to him “Wise man!  There’s a bull loose in the alley!  He’s angry.  He’s running up and down an alley destroying stalls and chasing people.  What should we do?”  The wise man took one look down the alley at the bull, before running down the road…to a different alley.  What does this teach us?

Sometimes, we’re forced to deal with crazy people.  This is an inescapable fact of life.  Everybody operates differently from everybody else, but the crazy person differs in that they’ve left the rest of us, and our common ground of humanity, far behind.  If someone is behaving in a way that makes no sense to you, if someone is endangering your life, what should you do?  You should do what’s necessary to get out of there.

This is what the midwives did.

You’re walking down the street.  Someone comes up behind you and says “drop your money on the ground and walk away.” You feel a knife to your back.  Do you say no and die?  Or do you do what’s necessary and live? No one is fertile or lively when they’re dead.


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