The Book of Exodus begins with the names of Jacob's sons and the fact that seventy people come with Jacob to Egypt. Joseph, his brothers, and their entire generation die, but the children of Israel increase in numbers and strength. A new king who did not know (or choose to recognize) Joseph and his accomplishments comes to power and decides to enslave the israelites. After tricking and then forcing the Israelites into hard labor, the king turns to two Hebrew midwives, Shifrah and Puah, to carry out the destruction of the Jewish people. He tells them to kill every male child born to the children of Israel. The midwives fear God and do not do as the king has commanded (1:17), telling him instead that Hebrew women give birth before they can attend to them., They are rewarded for their righteousness.
Pharoah, the king, commands all his people to kill the newborn Hebrew males. Amram and Yocheved, of the House of Levi, have a son who they hide for three months. When he can no longer be hidden, he is placed in a basket in the river. As his sister Miriam watches, Pharaoh's daughter rescues him from the water. At Miriam's suggestion, she hires Yocheved to nurse the child, whom she names Moses (Moshe).
When Moses grows up he witnesses an Egyptian striking a Hebrew man. Moses kills the Egyptian, but his action is discovered and Moses flees Egypt to go to Midian. The leader of Midian, Yitro (Jethro), has seven daughters who Moses helps when they are trying to water their flocks. Yitro invites Moses into his home and gives him his daughter Zipporah as his wife. They have a son named Gershom.
The king of Egypt dies and the people of israel cry out to God because of their hard labor. God hears their moaning. Moses is serving as a shepherd for his father-in-law when an angel appears before im in a burning bush. As the bush continues to burn and is not consumed, God calls out to Moses and tells him to remove his shoes as he is on holy ground. he also tells Moses that he is to go to the new Pharaoh in Egypt and take the children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses expresses fear and doubts about this mission, but God reassures him and tells Moses of his covenant with the children of Israel, promising to fulfill his promise and remove them from Egypt. Moses and Aaron, his brother, are to go together to see Pharoah.
Their first efforst to persuade Pharoah result in great labor and restrictions place on Hebre slaves. In despair, Moses asks why he has been sent to make matters worse for his people. At the end of the parasha, God tells Moses to watch as He takes His people out of Egypt.
When are we supposed to violate the law of the land, or go against established authority? How much danger are we allowed to put ourselves into? What if we are not rewarded, but will be punished? When can we no longer say we are "just following orders?"
Secondarily, why don't they tell Pharaoh that they refuse to follow his order? And why are we told explicitly that they were rewarded for their action?
The Movie: The Truman Show
The Truman Show is a wonderful movie which deals with the creation of a T.V. show world intended to fool one person. As the world watches Truman try to escape from his unreal world, Christof, his creator/producer, punishes him with a storm at sea. This clip is important for one short exchange. The technician in charge of manipulating Truman's world is ordered to create and then intensify the storm. At the point of extreme danger to Truman, Christof says, "Do it." the technician replies, "No."
1. Why would someone agree to make such a storm?
2. Why does the technician say no?
3. What might happen if he says no?
Looking at the text, we see that although the midwives did the right thing, they lied to Pharoah about the reason and were rewarded for both of these actions. Although one must help others, he doesn't have to die for another or tell the truth to evil people.
Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides, 1135 - 1204, leading Torah scholar of the Middle Ages, states that if a king asks a person to violate the smallest Torah law, one should violate the king's decree.
Leviticus 19:16 clearly states the commandment that "One shall not stand idly by when his brother's blood is being shed."
Mishna Sanhedrin 20a states that Avner, King Saul's general, was punished for not protesting the King's actions.
Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 says that "Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world."
Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 3b tells us "a person is always responsible for his actions."