by Moshe Feiglin
“And the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the King of Egypt said to them and they kept the children alive.” (From this week’s Torah portion, Shmot, Exodus 1:17)
Time and again, fear of G-d ensures life. The Israelite midwives in Egypt are not willing to murder the baby boys who they help deliver. But it is not their natural mothering instincts that compel them to defy the directive of the Egyptian tyrant. It is a different quality that saved the babies – fear of G-d.
When Joseph calms his frightened brothers before he imprisons Shimon, he provides them with a guarantee that he will not kill them: “And Joseph said to them on the third day, Do this and live, I fear G-d.” (Genesis 42:18)
When Avimelech asks Abraham why he didn’t tell the truth about his wife, Abraham answers with complete honesty: “And Abraham said, ‘Because I said, just that there is no fear of Gd in this place and they will kill me due to my wife.'”
Where there is no fear of G-d, there is murder.
Fear of Heaven is the cure for all the shocking murders that plague us.
But we also learn something else from the midwives. “And they did not do as the King of Egypt said to them.”
Where there is fear of Heaven, there is no fear of the cruel king. A person who has fear of the true King is not afraid and does not obey the criminal orders of a king of flesh and blood. Blind obedience is actually a lack of fear of Heaven.
There is another lesson that we learn from the short story of the midwives. For some reason, Pharaoh does not punish them. Pharaoh is a precursor of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. Our Sages’ depictions of his cruelty are hair raising. But the midwives – two women who defy the king – get out unscathed. Why?
“And all the nations of the earth will see that the Name of G-d is called upon you and they will fear you.” (Deuteronomy 28)
When a person fears Heaven, the nations of the world fear him. Even the all-powerful Pharaoh does not dare harm the midwives.