The Reward We Receive By Sharing the Joy of Others
It is written, “But the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live … G-d benefited the midwives – and the people increased and became very strong. And it was because the midwives feared G-d that He made them houses” (Exodus 1:17, 20-21).
Why is verse 20 (“G-d benefited the midwives”) not immediately followed by the description of how G-d rewarded them (“He made them houses”)? Instead, why is it interrupted in the middle by the phrase, “and the people increased...”?
I have read in the book Darchei Mussar that the reward G-d gave the midwives was that the people increased and prospered. The midwives Shifra and Puah – that is, Yocheved and her daughter Miriam (Sotah 11a) – would not be content with personal reward (the establishment of their homes) if the Children of Israel had continued to be oppressed and overwhelmed with hard labor and their newborn males thrown into the river (Exodus 1:22), which threatened to exterminate the Jewish people. Yet when they saw that Hashem, in His infinite goodness, annulled the decree of the wrongdoer and that the more the people were oppressed, the more it would “increase and so it would spread” (v.12) – that the people multiplied and grew considerably – their joy was complete. Thus it was only when the overall situation of the Children of Israel improved that the midwives were able to appreciate the personal reward that was allotted them: They would give rise to houses of priests and kings of Israel (Sotah 11a). In other words, the fate of the people was their primary concern.
The one who merits this, the author concludes, is therefore one who feels and shares the joy and pain of his fellow and all the Jewish people. Does Hashem Himself not proclaim, “I am with him in distress” (Psalms 91:15)?
A man should therefore first sympathize with the distress of his fellow, love him, and inquire about his needs. His own private life and interests should be secondary. His reward will be immense when he sincerely thinks of the happiness of others, as it is written: “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). You should first love him and sympathize with his situation with your entire being, and then you should think of yourself.
Before continuing, let us relate what Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michaleson, of blessed memory, head of the Rabbinical Courts of Pionsk and its surroundings, wrote about Rabbi Chanoch Henich of Alexander. While he was working in Novidvar, Rabbi Chanoch Henich suffered numerous humiliations, particularly from a certain person who should have been, from all accounts, excommunicated according to Halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 243:7). The residents of the city therefore insisted that the Rav excommunicate him, yet he stubbornly refused. Believing that the Rav was afraid of government authorities, those close to him collected 9,000 gold pieces and went to speak to him. “If the government takes you to court,” they explained, “this is the maximum fine they can impose on you. So here it is if you need it, Rabbeinu. Now banish this evildoer so that he no longer dares to humiliate a rabbi!”
Rabbi Chanoch flatly refused this proposal of theirs. To those close to him, who explained that the situation was perfectly clear and that there was no reason for him to be afraid, he replied: “There is no doubt about that. I know very well that this man should, according to Halachah, be excommunicated. Yet I wonder if personal interests are not playing a part in all this. I wonder if this banishment will simply be for G-d’s sake [see Exodus 29:12], so as to avenge the honor of the Torah and its scholars (who are angels of G-d), which have been tarnished by evildoers [see Shabbat 119b]. I therefore cannot accept to do this, lest personal interests enter into play, and in the final analysis I will not comply with the will of the Torah.”
This account shows us that we must always demonstrate the greatest caution and the utmost composure when humiliated. Shifra and Puah implored Hashem that their actions be for Heaven’s sake (see Exodus 22:19). Only the fear of G-d would push them to incur risks to save children made in the image of G-d, and it was this image of G-d that they saw when saving the children from death. That is what generated their fear of G-d (see Exodus 1:17).
However the midwives were not yet fully satisfied. Perhaps personal interests had played a role in their decision. Maybe they were allowing the children to live, not because of their fear of G-d, but for other reasons. Their joy was only complete when they saw the people multiplying and increasing. They tirelessly made their way from one place to the next in order to help Jewish women give birth. It was then that they perceived G-d’s help in making their work a success, and of this it is written: “Those whose hope is in the L-RD will have renewed strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Consequently, when we serve G-d without experiencing weariness, this is a sign that He is helping us. The building of their houses, that of the priesthood and royalty, was secondary with respect to their joy over having untiringly covered the land in order to help Jewish women give birth and to see an increasing number of babies. The midwives certainly did not act through pride or for any personal honor whatsoever. They only sought to increase Hashem’s glory. There are no boundaries in serving G-d; there is no weariness. The more we serve G-d, the stronger we get. That is what the midwives experienced. The people multiplied and increased, and the midwives felt no fatigue whatsoever. At that point they were certain that they had acted solely for G-d’s sake.
We know that G-d repays “measure for measure” (Shabbat 105b). Now we see that by having allowed the children to live, the midwives’ reward was the building of houses of priesthood and royalty. Was that a case of being repaid “measure for measure”? This is the question raised by Rabbi Daniel Heyman, one that he heard from his Rav.
The verse specifies, “He made them batim [houses]” (Exodus 1:21), and the term batim comes from Batiah, Pharaoh’s daughter – bat Y-h (“daughter of Hashem”) – who, as our Sages explained (Vayikra Rabba 1:3), saved Moses from the river (see Exodus 2:5). Thus G-d acted measure for measure. The midwives saved the souls of Israel, and as a reward G-d sent them Batiah, who saved our teacher Moses, the son of Yocheved and brother of Miriam (the two midwives).
The verse states, “His sister [Miriam] stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him” (Exodus 2:4). She had prophesied that her mother was destined to give birth to a child who would save the Jewish people (Sotah 11b). Now even if the midwives’ reward consisted of houses of priesthood and royalty that were to come into being, respectively, through Moses’ brother Aaron (the High Priest) and through Miriam herself (by marriage to Caleb from the tribe of Judah), the saving of Moses himself also constituted a reward that was measure for measure. This is because Moses represented the priesthood (since he built the Tabernacle) and royalty (since he led the Jewish people). Thus by sending the midwives Batiah (who saved Moses), G-d repaid the midwives measure for measure.
It is written, “The Children of Israel were fruitful, teemed, increased, and became very strong – very, very much so” (Exodus 1:7), for Jewish women were giving birth to six children at a time (Mechilta Bo 12). Thus we see that the one who shares the joy of his fellow and strives to help him in all circumstances receives an immeasurable reward from G-d.