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Sotah, 11

SOTAH 11 - Dedicated in memory of Max (Meir Menachem ben Shlomo ha'Levy) Turkel, whose Yahrzeit is 5 Teves, by his wife Jean and sons Eddie and Lawrence Turkel.


AGADAH: The Gemara says that "in the merit of the righteous women who lived in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Mitzrayim." The Gemara then describes the righteous acts of the women and how they would endear themselves to their husbands, coming to the fields where their husbands labored (since their husbands were unable to leave their labor to come home to their wives) to be with their husbands. When the time came for the women to give birth, they would go out to the fields and give birth under the "Tapu'ach" trees, and they would give to their newborns cakes of oil and cakes of honey. When the Egyptians became aware that the women had given birth, they came to kill the babies, but a miracle happened to the babies -- they were swallowed up into the ground. The Egyptians brought oxen and plowed over the ground, but after they left, the babies emerged from the ground like the grass of the field. When Hashem appeared to the Jewish people at Yam Suf, these children were the first to recognize His presence.

Taken literally, the miracle related by this Gemara seems to dwarf all of the miracles on the Egyptian redemption, the ten plagues included. However, no mention of this miracle is made in any of the sources which express praise to Hashem for the miracles that He wrought for us in Mitzrayim. Perhaps we can view the account related by this Gemara as an allegorical lesson about the Mesiras Nefesh of the Jewish people in Mitzrayim.

When the Gemara says that the Jewish people were redeemed "in the merit of the righteous women," it is referring to the merit of their Bitachon, their unswerving trust in Hashem. The Gemara (12a) says that even Amram, the greatest leader of the Jewish people in Mitzrayim at the time, wanted to stop having children because of the terrible decrees that the Egyptians were making. The women, however, trusted in Hashem that He would send them the promised redeemer at the proper time, and they encouraged the men to continue to build families, just like the Gemara relates that Miriam encouraged her father Amram. (In addition, the Jewish women wanted to become pregnant from their husbands so that the Egyptians would not be enticed to violate them.)

The Gemara says that they give birth "under the Tapu'ach" tree. The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) says that the unquestioning faith that Bnei Yisrael expressed when they said, "Na'aseh v'Nishma," is represented by a Tapu'ach tree, which produces fruit even before it produces leaves to protect the fruit from the elements. In the same way, the Jewish women sought to produce offspring even before they knew how their offspring would be protected from the Egyptian decrees.

The oil and honey that Hashem prepared for the babies might allude to the fact that Hashem blessed these children with their spiritual and physical needs despite the limitations imposed on them by the Egyptian tyranny. They were blessed with an aptitude towards Chochmah (which allowed them to integrate the Torah so quickly at Har Sinai), which is compared to oil, and their physical needs, which are compared to honey (see Mishlei 25:16), were miraculously met.

When the Gemara says that when the Egyptians came to kill them a miracle happened and they were swallowed into the ground, it means that the Egyptians were not able to find them when their parents hid them (just like Moshe Rabeinu's mother hid him) because Hashem protected them.

The Egyptians came with oxen to plow over them. This it means that the Egyptians said that if their slaves were still having children, then they will make them toil even harder so that they will lose any desire to have more children. However, the children "sprouted forth like grass in the field," showing that the more the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Jews multiplied (as expressed in Shemos 1:20).

When the Gemara says that these children were the first to recognize Hashem when He appeared to the Jewish people at Yam Suf, it means that when Hashem showed himself to the Jewish nation as the "Ish Milchamah" (Shemos 15:3), who quashed the mighty Egyptian army, they exclaimed that all along they had full faith in the coming of His promised redemption. They felt Hashem protect them while growing up under the Egyptian oppression and they trusted that, in its proper time, He would redeem the entire Jewish nation from the Egyptian exile, as promised. (M. Kornfeld)

QUESTION: The Torah relates that Pharaoh -- in his attempt to reduce the growth of the Jewish people and to eliminate the perceived threat of rebellion (Shemos 1:10) -- ordered the Jewish midwives (1:15) to kill every baby boy that was born (1:16). The Gemara relates that he taught them a way to discern when the expecting mothers were ready to give birth (so that they would not be able to give birth in secret and hide their babies, Rashi). Pharaoh also taught them how to discern whether the baby -- before emerging from the womb -- was a boy or a girl. The Torah relates that the midwives "feared G-d" (1:17) and they did not kill the babies, but, on the contrary, they helped keep them alive.

Why did Pharaoh find it necessary to teach the midwives a way to discern the gender of the baby before the baby was born? The midwives would know, obviously, the gender of the baby immediately after it was born! Why did they have to know its gender before it was born?

Similarly, when Pharaoh confronted the midwives and censured them for letting the babies live, the midwives responded that they had no chance to kill the babies because "before the midwife comes to them, they already have given birth." How did the midwives intend to defend their actions with this response? Pharaoh could have responded simply that the midwives should have killed the babies *after* they have given birth!

ANSWERS: It is clear from the Gemara that Pharaoh's intention was to have the Jewish midwives kill the babies *before* they emerged from the womb. However, what was Pharaoh's intention behind this? He could have commanded just as well that the midwives kill the babies *after* they were born!

(a) The VILNA GA'ON (Kol Eliyahu, #49) explains that Pharaoh did not have the power, at this point, to order that the babies be killed by the midwives after they were born. The laws of the land required that in order to kill someone or to administer capital punishment, the due process of law and judgment had to be rendered. Even though Pharaoh was a very cruel monarch, it would have been beyond the accepted practice of the kingship to issue such a barbarous order, and issuing such a cruel and irrational order would have certainly prompted a national uprising. Therefore, Pharaoh commanded the midwives that "when you see them on the birthing stool" -- that is, *before* the women have given birth -- "if it is a boy, you shall kill him" (1:16). In this manner the mothers would not be aware that their babies were being murdered, but they would assume that they were being born as stillborns. This is why Pharaoh taught the midwives how to discern whether the fetus was a boy or a girl before it emerged from the womb, and why Pharaoh had no response when the midwives informed him that the babies were being born before the midwives arrived.

(b) The MAHARSHA (Sanhedrin 57b) and the PARASHAS DERACHIM (Derush 17; see also HE'OROS B'MASECHES SOTAH) asks an additional question. Why did Pharaoh specifically order the *Jewish* midwives -- "la'Meyaldos ha'Ivriyos" (Shemos 1:15) -- to kill the babies? He explains as follows:

The Torah forbids a Nochri to kill an unborn fetus, and a Nochri who transgresses this Isur is considered to have transgressed Retzichah and is Chayav Misah (Sanhedrin 57b). For a Jew, though, killing an unborn fetus is only prohibited with a Lav; there is no Chiyuv Misah for a Jew who kills an unborn fetus.

Therefore, Pharaoh specifically ordered the Jewish midwives to kill the baby boys before they were born, because the Egyptian midwives would be Chayav Misah for doing so! He did not expect the Jewish midwives to kill the babies *after* they were born, because then they, too, would be Chayav Misah!

The Perashas Derachim adds that Pharaoh made an error in his calculation. Even though the Jewish midwives would not be Chayav Misah at the hands of Beis Din for following Pharaoh's orders and killing the unborn babies, they *would* be Chayav Misah *b'Yedei Shamayim*, and therefore they refused to follow his orders. They were righteous, G-d-fearing women, and they feared heavenly punishment. That is why the verse states that "the midwives *feared G-d* and they did not do as the king of Mitzrayim told to them" (Shemos 1:17) -- even if there was no Chiyuv Misah b'Yidei Adam, they still "feared G-d" and the Chiyuv Misah b'Yedei Shamayim

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