“The midwives feared God…” With these words, the Torah provides the reason that the midwives in Egypt didn’t do as Pharaoh commanded them and kill each Jewish boy as it was born. Due to the lack of details provided in the Torah, we can only theorize regarding the particulars of what led up to their decision to disobey his order. They may have discussed it together, or consulted with others, then weighed the potential ramifications of disobeying the monarch, and ultimately made their decision. The Torah’s brief description of their motivation, which simply states that they “feared God,” may imply that they had no opportunity (or, perhaps, no need) for deliberation or discussion. There was no way they would follow his orders, no matter what the consequences would be. As much as they may have feared Pharaoh, they feared God even more – so their decision was simple.
Making decisions based on careful deliberation is certainly a preferred mode of operation. But there are many times when a quick, reflexive decision must be made because of circumstances beyond our control or because an opportunity will be lost. It is at these occasions, when there is no time for analysis or much thought at all, that the core values and attitudes that we live by emerge. Aside from the ritual or social practices proscribed by Judaism, Torah literature is full of many ideas and ideals: God exists, He cares about Mankind, and He orchestrates life’s situations with our best interests in mind. Another example is the idea that neither our spiritual nor our physical selves can be neglected but our true essence is spiritual. Have we studied, discussed and thought about and internalized these ideas, or are they just words on a page in a book on the shelf in the shul? The more we recognize that the Almighty has a hand in our lives, for example, the easier it will be to keep our cool in all situations and potentially react more wisely. When a situation arises that demands quick action, we decide based on whatever ideas are in our mind’s operating system. We can only benefit from thinking in a Jewish way at all times if we have made this investment beforehand.
The midwives’ lesson is the importance of recognizing that our deepest thoughts and attitudes eventually do surface. As challenging as it may be to practice Judaism in contemporary times, lighting Shabbat candles and donning a Talis are much easier than changing our innermost paradigms and sub-conscious attitudes. To advance ourselves past merely looking and acting like Jews to the point that we can even think like Jews, is one life’s real challenges and opportunities.