Courageous Acts of Kindness

The midwives who appear at the beginning of Parshat Shmot stand out for their courage. Pharaoh commanded the midwives to kill the Jewish baby boys immediately after they were born. The midwives disregarded the king's command. In Shmot 1:17 we read: "But the midwives feared God and did not do as the King of Egypt commanded them. Rather, they saved the baby boys alive".

Eben Ezra points out that not only did the midwives not kill the boys, they actually helped them live!

Shmot Raba 1:15 adds that the midwives went out of their way to do the boys favors. In a physical way, they collected food and drinks from the wealthier families to give to the poorer families. In a spiritual way, they prayed that the babies should be born healthy. The midrash teaches that because of the prayers of the midwives, the children were all born healthy.

The midwives were not afraid to stand up to the king. When the king asked them why they saved the baby boys, they answered (Shmot 1:19)" The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are 'chayot', experts; before the midwife even comes to them, they have already given birth." 

For their courage, the midwives were rewarded. In Shmot Raba 1:17 it says that God benefitted the midwives by causing Pharaoh to have mercy on them and believe their excuses. If Pharaoh did not believe the midwives, there is no doubt that he would have put them to death for disobeying him.

According to Or HaChayim, when God sees a person fearing him and desiring to serve him at great sacrifice, he allows that person to succeed and enables them to do even more good deeds that they will in turn be rewarded for later.

Rav Moshe Feinstein adds that the midwives were not looking for a personal reward. The satisfaction of seeing the nation grow was enough of a reward for them.

However, God still wanted to give them a personal reward as it says in Shmot 1:21 "Because the midwives feared God, He made them 'batim', houses." Shadal explains that these 'batim' were large healthy families, a reward for their good deeds.  

This reminds me of the excerpt from Masechet Shabbat 127a that we study each morning after we say birkot hatorah: "Elu devarim sheadam ochel perotehem baolam hazeh vhakeren kayemet lo leolam haba", "These are the mitzvot whose fruits a person enjoys in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come. They are: honoring our parents, acts of gemilut chasadim-kindness, early attandence at the beit midrash, hospitality to guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, focus on prayer and bringing peace between people. Torah study is equivalent to all of these mitzvot."

When we observe many of these mitzvot, we are rewarded with the satisfaction of helping others.

Let's try to follow in the footsteps of the courageous midwives and take upon ourselves the observance of selfless acts of lovingkindness.