Parshas Shemos - The Bigger Picture

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 12/27/18

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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One of the greatest heroic acts in the annals of our history was the courageous efforts of Yocheved and Miriam, otherwise known as Shifrah and Puah, who during their reign as midwives mightily defied the evil Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the male infants.

Risking their very lives they not only refused to harm them but also provided nourishment so they may thrive. This extraordinary act of chesed, kindness, merited their becoming the mothers of royalty, priesthood, and levites, as the Davidic dynasty, the Kohanim and Levi’im all descended from these two heroines.

The Torah couches this blessing in the verse that reports.

ויהי כי יראו המילדות את האלקים ויעש להם בתים - שמות א כא, And it was because the midwives feared G-d that he made them houses.

The ‘houses’ here refer to the houses of royalty, priesthood and levites, that would serve G-d for eternity in their unique capacity.

In what way are ‘houses’ indicative of these positions of privilege and service?

The Torah seems to de-emphasize their valorous kindness and accents rather their ‘fear of G-d’ instead. Wasn’t it their devotion to the people that warranted them reward?

Although the Talmud explains the verse as a prophetic vision of these future positions, the simple reading of the verse is in stark contrast to this glorious future. 

Many interpret the verse simply as referring to Pharaoh who after observing these midwives’ reverence of their G-d that compelled them to risk the consequences of their actions, instructs his officers to build houses for these midwives amidst the Egyptian populace so that may be more closely observed and preempted from their saving the Jewish children.

How are we to balance these two diverse understandings of the very same verse?

The word for fear, יראה, is the very same word used for seeing. When one is limited in one’s scope either literally or spiritually, it is difficult to discern an accurate perception of the broader dimensions of G-d’s presence. 

There are those who see beyond the limited circumstances of their lives, who are capable of sensing a presence that orchestrates and lovingly guides with precision every detail of our lives.

During the days of difficult decree against the young infants it was easy to become defeated and succumb to despair and sorrow. The saving of children was often an exercise in futility after having secured their safety for a short time only to be snatched away and thrown to the sea.

What value, many thought, would there be in sparing their lives for so short an interval?

But those who see the ‘bigger picture’, knowing that value of life is not measured by our own short-sighted vision, but rather through the perfect ‘eyes of G-d’, in whose realm every act of kindness, no matter how seemingly insignificant or worthwhile, has great import in the greater scheme of things that are beyond our ken, are able to persist without ever feeling discouraged.

Fathoming that reality imbues one not only with a sense of duty but more importantly one of awe of the reality of G-d in every moment of our lives, even when it is one of apparent suffering and futility. 

The emphasis on their awe of G-d is what fueled their drive to continue unabated in devotion to their brethren and sisters with an ever greater zeal and concern.

The great defender of chassidus, and illustrious disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and Rav Pinchos of Koritz, Reb Yaakov Shimshon of Shepitovka, offers a fascinating insight on this very verse.

We know that the Torah preceded creation. If so, he asks, how can the Torah report yet before it happened that the midwives chose so nobly to risk their lives on behalf of their fellow Jews? Wouldn’t that indicate it was predestined and not an act of free choice?

He quotes the Zohar that teaches that each letter in the Torah is called a ‘stone’. A combination of letters/stones form a word, a ‘house’.

The letters of the Torah were written consecutively without gaps, leaving the formation of words/houses, with many possibilities. When the midwives ‘chose’ to act so valiantly, ויעש להם בתים, he made them houses. G-d took the letters and formed them into words that expressed their remarkable deed, thus becoming part of Torah, etched forever for posterity.

We each are given the opportunity to take the ‘stones’ that are thrown into our path and transform them into mighty ‘palaces’ of eternity.

It is precisely when we appear besieged by our enemies who seek to confine and control us, that we can discover in those challenging moments how to build empires of eternity.

It has been noted that the phrase ויעש להם בתים, is numerically equivalent to the word בראשית, In the beginning, the very first one in the Torah.

Every moment is a new beginning, a new glimpse towards eternity, an opportunity to create a reality that connects to something much greater than is visible to our human eyes.

May we discover and thrill in those magnificent vistas!


צבי יהודה טייכמאן