The Great Emuna of the Midwives for the Coming Redemption
“And the midwives feared the Lord and didn’t do what the king of Egypt told them and they let the children live.” (1:17)
Regarding the midwives—Shifra/Yocheved and Puah/Miriam—the Kli Yakar first explains their names:
- "Shifra" comes from a word that means beauty (shufrah). Yocheved returned to her former beauty and youth in order to be able to conceive the Jewish redeemer. He also points out that when this happened, she realized that she would birth the redeemer because Hashem would not cause such a miracle needlessly.
- "Puah" is a form of impassioned speech and applies to Miriam because she was a prophetess.
Because these names indicate their total faith and certainty in Hashem’s redemption of the Jewish people.
The Kli Yakar explains that had these two righteous women any doubts about the future redemption, they might have gone along with the decree against the Jewish boys because "it would have been better for the children to die young than to be born into emptiness and the kind of agitation that causes one to lose his grasp on reality by spending all their days in suffering and slavery."
But instead, they knew with absolute certainty that redemption was on the way.
Furthermore, the Kli Yakar notes that the two women remained silent when Pharaoh first informed them of the ruthless decree. They knew not to carry out the decree and they were afraid that if they'd speak against it, then Pharaoh would find midwives who weren't as courageous and didn't possess their level of emuna, who would carry out the decree.
The Evil of Verbal Abuse and Lashon Hara
יד וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט, עָלֵינוּ--הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי; וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר, אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר
The Kli Yakar interprets this to mean verbal abuse. He points to the example from Mishlei/Proverbs 12:18—“There is one who speaks like stabbing sword.” The Kli Yakar states, “He who casts aspersion on his friend—there is no greater strike than this.” He goes on to say that both were quarreling and cursing each other, and in the next verse, Moshe Rabbeinu realizes that the two also engaged in lashon hara (forbidden speech).
Moshe was afraid and said, “Surely the matter is known.” (2:14)
The Kli Yakar states: “More than all the rest of the nations, the Jewish people becomes immersed in suffering because of sinful speech…This is because the sin of lashon hara builds up transgressions to the level of occult worship, licentious behavior, and murder."
Then the Kli Yakar reassures us that only these two quarrelers were slanderers and that the rest of the Jewish nation was free from this sin.
In general, the Kli Yakar finds the theme of lashon hara running through this parsha in particular. He says that the burning bush symbolizes the sticking thorns of lashon hara and the quarreling sparked by hatred and envy that cause a “fire.”
Then he explains that the snake represents the degradation to which lashon hara eventually drags us down.
But in grabbing the snake by the tail and turning it into a staff again, it shows that Hashem raises us up to be like the ruler’s staff.
How to Get Your Prayers to Ascend
The Kli Yakar explains this verse to refer to two separate groups of Jews:
- The sighers (sigh – anacha): The righteous Jews who prayed to Hashem from the heart to save them from their terrible suffering as slaves
- The shouters (shout – tza’akah): The deficient Jews (ha-pachotim) who did not pray to Hashem, but who shouted out as those who challenge Hashem
The Malbim (1809-1879) was Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel who was born in Russia and served as a rabbi all over Eastern Europe. He was bitterly fought by the Reform Movement for most of his adult life, even suffering brief imprisonment over a false accusation in Rumania by wealthy German Reformers. Fortunately, he left us an amazing commentary on the entire Torah among other valuable works he composed.
This is my own translation and therefore, any errors are also mine.