Parashat Shemot 5772
This week we begin reading Sefer Shemot, the second book of the Chumash.
At the beginning of Shemot the Jewish people are living contentedly in Egypt. However, very quickly their circumstances change into slavery and persecution.
Paro decided that the Jewish people were a threat to his kingdom so he devised several schemes to limit their population growth and power.
One of his schemes is that only the female Jewish children should be allowed to live. To this end he ordered the midwives to kill the male children.
This incident in recorded in Shemot 1:15-21. Here is the translation from Judaic Classics:
15. And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, and the name of one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah;
16. And he said, When you do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.
17. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.
18. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said to them, Why have you done this thing, and have saved the male children alive?
19. And the midwives said to Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and deliver before the midwives come to them.
20. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.
21. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.
Here are my questions on these verses. (In this section I am using my own translation of the Hebrew.)
Why is Paro called here “King of Egypt”? How often is this title used?
Doing a word search (in Hebrew) I found that in Sefer Shemot, the Egyptian ruler is called Paro 94 times and Paro King of Egypt an additional 5 times.
On only seven occasions is he just called King of Egypt. All of these appear in Chapters 1-5 of the sefer. So, what is the significance of this title and why is it used here?
Who are these midwives? Are they Jews or Egyptians?
This question becomes clearer if you look at the Hebrew. The Hebrew phrase could be translated as “the midwives of the Hebrews” or “the Hebrew midwives.” The first translation leaves open the possibility that it is Egyptian midwives helping Jewish women give birth.
Furthermore, why are there only two midwives?
What is the best translation of “al ha’avnaiyim”?
How could the midwives tell the difference between a male or female baby?
At what point during the birth process were they being ordered to kill the male children? Before labor, during labor, or immediately after the woman gave birth?
Why is the name Elokim used here?
The verse says, “and they did not do as the King of Egypt said to them.” Once I know this, what is added by “and they kept alive the children”?
Again, why the added phrase “and you kept alive the children”? We already know that they disobeyed Paro. What does this phrase add?
Does this verse imply that the midwives were assisting both Egyptian and Jewish women and that is how they knew that the women were different? Or perhaps, there really was no difference, but they are just making up a plausible excuse?
What does the word “chaiyot” mean in this context? Which women have this trait?
Why does the verse say “the midwife”? In their reply, why don’t the midwives say “we”? This implies that more than two midwives were involved.
How did their answer appease Paro? If he wanted the male children killed, did it matter to him if they had already been born?
What good thing did God do for the midwives?
Why are we told in this verse that the people multiplied and became strong?
The verse ends: “and he made for them houses.” Who made houses for who? What does houses mean in this context?
Please share your questions, answers, and other thoughts in the comments.
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