Parshas Shemos begins with the story of how Bnei Yisrael became slaves in Egypt. As part of being slaves, they were completely subjugated to the authority of Paroh, the king of Egypt. One of the harsh decrees Paroh placed on them was that every Jewish boy that was born had to be killed. However, the midwives Paroh placed in charge of this operation did not listen to Paroh, and actively saved the babies from death. The pasuk tells us their reward, “וייטב אלהים למילדת וירב העם ויעצמו מאד כא ויהי כי יראו המילדת את האלהים ויעש להם בתים” “Hashem benefited the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very strong. And it was that the midwives feared Hashem, and He made them houses.” (Shemos 1:20-21).
Rashi explains that this last part, ‘He made them houses’, is their reward. It means that they became the mothers of the Kohanim and Levi’im, as well as several kings. The Ohr HaChaim asks a simple question. If this is the reward, then what is the meaning of the first pasuk when it says that ‘Hashem benefited the midwives, and the people multiplied’? The pasuk seems to say that this is their reward, but then the pasuk continues with the statement that the nation grew and became strong. If the reward is found only at the end of the second pasuk, why is there a break in between telling us that the nation grew?
The Ohr HaChaim explains that the fact that the nation grew was the midwives’ reward. He gives two explanations for this. Rashi explains that the midwives would give food and water to the mothers so they would be able to nurse their babies. As more and more babies were born, it would make sense that they would not be able to support all of them. So the first good thing that Hashem did was give the midwives’ enough money that they could continue to support every single mother that gave birth. After Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim and the babies were no longer in danger, then Hashem gave them their own personal reward that they were the mothers of great houses.
The second answer is based on a Mishna in Pirkei Avos, “The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah” (Avos 4:2). This means that the reward you get for doing a mitzvah is the opportunity to do another, which gives you even more reward. Therefore, the greatest reward the midwives could have gotten was that the nation should grow, thereby providing them with even more opportunities to save the children and do more mitzvos!
These midwives were none other than Yocheved and Miriam, Moshe’s mother and sister, respectively. Moshe was known for the extreme care that he showed for every single Jew. It was this trait that led to his appointment as leader, and it came from this show of care and concern that his mother showed. In fact, says the Ohr HaChaim, it was in this zchus that Moshe became the leader of Bnei Yisrael.
Finally, the Ohr HaChaim offers an answer based on Rashi’s explanation that we mentioned earlier. The only reward the midwives received was their ‘houses’. However, there is no point in having children who are leaders if there is no nation for them to lead! Therefore, the fact that the nation kept growing was also a part of the midwives’ reward.
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Please check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!