בפרך רבי אלעזר אמר בפה רך רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר בפריכה
with rigor [befarekh]” (Exodus 1:13). Rabbi Elazar says: The word befarekh is a conjugation of the words: With a soft mouth [bifeh rakh], as the Egyptians enticed the Jewish people into slavery, gradually subjugating them until they had lost their freedom completely. Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says: The word befarekh should be understood as: With crushing [bifrikha], as the Egyptians subjugated Israel with backbreaking labor.
(שמות א, יד) וימררו את חייהם בעבודה קשה בחומר ובלבנים וגו' אמר רבא בתחילה בחומר ובלבנים ולבסוף ובכל עבודה בשדה
The next verse states: “And they made their lives bitter through hard service, with mortar and brick, and with every laborious service in the field” (Exodus 1:14). Rava says: The verse mentions specifically mortar and brick and then all forms of labor, as initially the Egyptians had them work with mortar and bricks, and ultimately they subjugated them “and with every laborious service in the field.”
את כל עבודתם אשר עבדו בהם בפרך אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן שהיו מחליפין מלאכת אנשים לנשים ומלאכת נשים לאנשים ולמ"ד נמי התם בפה רך הכא ודאי בפריכה
The verse concludes: “In all their service, wherein they made them serve with rigor” (Exodus 1:14). Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yonatan says: The meaning of befarekh is that the Egyptians would exchange the responsibilities of men and women, giving men’s work to women and women’s work to men, requiring everyone to do work to which they were unaccustomed. And even according to the one who says that there, in the previous verse, bifarekh indicates that the Egyptians enslaved the Jews with a soft mouth, here, in this verse, which describes the physical hardship of the labor, the word befarekh certainly means with crushing labor.
דרש רב עוירא בשכר נשים צדקניות שהיו באותו הדור נגאלו ישראל ממצרים בשעה שהולכות לשאוב מים הקב"ה מזמן להם דגים קטנים בכדיהן ושואבות מחצה מים ומחצה דגים ובאות ושופתות שתי קדירות אחת של חמין ואחת של דגים
§ Rav Avira taught: In the merit of the righteous women that were in that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt. He tells of their righteous actions: At the time when these women would go to the river to draw water, the Holy One, Blessed be He, would materialize for them small fish that would enter into their pitchers, and they would therefore draw pitchers that were half filled with water and half filled with fish. And they would then come and place two pots on the fire, one pot of hot water for washing their husbands and one pot of fish with which to feed them.
ומוליכות אצל בעליהן לשדה ומרחיצות אותן וסכות אותן ומאכילות אותן ומשקות אותן ונזקקות להן בין שפתים שנאמר (תהלים סח, יד) אם תשכבון בין שפתים וגו' בשכר תשכבון בין שפתים זכו ישראל לביזת מצרים שנאמר (תהלים סח, יד) כנפי יונה נחפה בכסף ואברותיה בירקרק חרוץ
And they would then take what they prepared to their husbands, to the field, and would bathe their husbands and anoint them with oil and feed them the fish and give them to drink and bond with them in sexual intercourse between the sheepfolds, i.e., between the borders and fences of the fields, as it is stated: “When you lie among the sheepfolds, the wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold” (Psalms 68:14), which is interpreted to mean that as a reward for “when you lie among the sheepfolds,” the Jewish people merited to receive the plunder of Egypt, as it is stated in the continuation of the verse, as a reference to the Jewish people: “The wings of the dove are covered with silver, and her pinions with the shimmer of gold” (Psalms 68:14).
וכיון שמתעברות באות לבתיהם וכיון שמגיע זמן מולדיהן הולכות ויולדות בשדה תחת התפוח שנאמר (שיר השירים ח, ה) תחת התפוח עוררתיך וגו'
And when these women would become pregnant, they would come back to their homes, and when the time for them to give birth would arrive they would go and give birth in the field under the apple tree, as it is stated: “Under the apple tree I awakened you; there your mother was in travail with you; there was she in travail and brought you forth” (Song of Songs 8:5).
והקב"ה שולח משמי מרום מי שמנקיר ומשפיר אותן כחיה זו שמשפרת את הולד שנאמר (יחזקאל טז, ד) ומולדותיך ביום הולדת אותך לא כרת שרך ובמים לא רחצת למשעי וגו' ומלקט להן שני עגולין אחד של שמן ואחד של דבש שנאמר (דברים לב, יג) ויניקהו דבש מסלע ושמן וגו'
And the Holy One, Blessed be He, would send from the heavens above an angel who would clean and prepare the newborns, just as a midwife prepares the newborn, as it is stated: “And as for your birth, on the day you were born, your navel was not cut nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not salted at all, nor swaddled at all” (Ezekiel 16:4). This indicates that there were no midwives to take care of the Jews born in Egypt. And then, the angel would gather for them two round stones from the field and the babies would nurse from that which would flow out of them. One of the stones flowed with oil and one of the stones flowed with honey, as it is stated: “And He would suckle them with honey from a crag and oil from a flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:13).
וכיון שמכירין בהן מצרים באין להורגן ונעשה להם נס ונבלעין בקרקע ומביאין שוורים וחורשין על גבן שנאמר (תהלים קכט, ג) על גבי חרשו חורשים וגו לאחר שהולכין היו מבצבצין ויוצאין כעשב השדה שנאמר (יחזקאל טז, ז) רבבה כצמח השדה נתתיך
And once the Egyptians would notice them, realizing that they were Jewish babies, they would come to kill them. But a miracle would occur for them and they would be absorbed by the earth. And the Egyptians would then bring oxen and would plow upon them, as it is stated: “The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows” (Psalms 129:3). After the Egyptians would leave, the babies would emerge and exit the ground like grass of the field, as it is stated: “I caused you to increase even as the growth of the field” (Ezekiel 16:7).
וכיון שמתגדלין באין עדרים עדרים לבתיהן שנאמר (יחזקאל טז, ז) ותרבי ותגדלי ותבואי בעדי עדים אל תקרי בעדי עדים אלא בעדרי עדרים
And once the babies would grow, they would come like many flocks of sheep to their homes, as it is stated in the continuation of the verse: “And you did increase and grow up and you came with excellent beauty [ba’adi adayim]” (Ezekiel 16:7). Do not read the verse as: “Ba’adi adayim,” “with excellent beauty.” Rather, read it as: Be’edrei adarim, meaning: As many flocks.
וכשנגלה הקב"ה על הים הם הכירוהו תחלה שנאמר (שמות טו, ב) זה אלי ואנוהו
And when the Holy One, Blessed be He, revealed Himself at the Red Sea, these children recognized Him first, as it is stated: “This is my God, and I will glorify Him” (Exodus 15:2). They recognized Him from the previous time that He revealed Himself to them in their infancy, enabling them to say: “This is my God.”
(שמות א, טו) ויאמר מלך מצרים למילדות העבריות וגו' רב ושמואל חד אמר אשה ובתה וחד אמר כלה וחמותה מ"ד אשה ובתה יוכבד ומרים ומ"ד כלה וחמותה יוכבד ואלישבע
§ The verse states: “And the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah” (Exodus 1:15). Rav and Shmuel disagree as to the proper interpretation of this verse. One says that these midwives were a woman and her daughter, and one says that they were a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. According to the one who says that they were a woman and her daughter, the women were Jochebed, the mother of Moses and Aaron, and her daughter, Miriam. And according to the one who says that they were a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law, the verse is referring to Jochebed and her daughter-in-law Elisheba, the wife of Aaron.
תניא כמ"ד אשה ובתה דתניא שפרה זו יוכבד ולמה נקרא שמה שפרה שמשפרת את הולד ד"א שפרה שפרו ורבו ישראל בימיה
It is taught in a baraita according to the one who says that they were a woman and her daughter, because it is taught in a baraita: With regard to Shiphrah, who is referred to in the verse, this is really a reference to Jochebed. And why was she called Shiphrah? Because she would prepare [mishapperet] the newborn. Alternatively, she is referred to as Shiphrah because the Jewish people increased and multiplied [shepparu verabbu] in her days, due to her assistance.
פועה זו מרים ולמה נקרא שמה פועה שהיתה פועה (ומוציאה את הולד) ד"א פועה שהיתה פועה ברוח הקודש ואומרת עתידה אמי שתלד בן שמושיע את ישראל
The baraita continues: With regard to Puah, who is referred to in the verse, this is really a reference to Miriam. And why was she called Puah? Because she would make a comforting sound [po’a] as she would remove the child from the womb of the mother. Alternatively, the word Puah is related to one of the verbs that describe speaking, as she would speak [po’a] through divine inspiration and say: In the future, my mother will give birth to a son who will save the Jewish people.
(שמות א, טז) ויאמר בילדכן את העבריות וגו' מאי אבנים א"ר חנן סימן גדול מסר להן אמר להן בשעה שכורעת לילד יריכותיה מצטננות כאבנים
The next verse relates the instructions of Pharaoh to the midwives: “And he said: When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you look upon the stones [ovnayim], if it be a son, then you shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live” (Exodus 1:16). The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of “stones”? Rabbi Ḥanan says: Pharaoh transmitted a great sign to them. He said to them: At the time when a woman crouches to give birth, her thighs become as cold as stones, and, therefore, this shall be for you a sign that the woman is about to give birth.
ואית דאמר כדכתיב (ירמיהו יח, ג) וארד בית היוצר והנה הוא עושה מלאכה על האבנים מה יוצר זה ירך מכאן וירך מכאן וסדן באמצע אף אשה ירך מכאן וירך מכאן והולד באמצע
And there are those who say an alternative explanation for ovnayim: As it is written: “So I went down to the potter’s shop, and behold, he was at his work on the wheels [ovnayim]” (Jeremiah 18:3). Just as this potter sits so that one thigh is here and one thigh is there and the block upon which he works is in the middle, so too, a woman giving birth also has one thigh here and one thigh there and the newborn is in the middle.
(שמות א, טז) אם בן הוא והמתן אותו א"ר חנינא סימן גדול מסר להן בן פניו למטה בת פניה למעלה
The verse continues: “If it be a son, then you shall kill him; but if it be a daughter, then she shall live” (Exodus 1:16). Rabbi Ḥanina says: Pharaoh transmitted to them a great sign to enable them to know the gender of the infant from the beginning of the birth process: A boy is born with his face downward; a girl is born with her face upward. Pharaoh provided them with this sign so that they could kill the boys secretly even before the mother realized what was happening.
(שמות א, יז) ותיראן המילדות את האלהים ולא עשו כאשר דבר אליהן וגו' להן מיבעי ליה א"ר יוסי בר' חנינא מלמד שתבען לדבר עבירה ולא נתבעו
The next verse states: “But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt spoke about them [aleihen], but they kept the male children alive” (Exodus 1:17). The Gemara comments: It should have stated: “Spoke to them [lahen].” Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: This teaches that Pharaoh proposed to them to engage in a sinful act, i.e., sexual intercourse, with him, but they did not accept his overtures. The word aleihen is often used in reference to sexual intercourse, for example: “And brought her to him; and he consorted with her [eileha]” (Genesis 29:23), and that is its connotation here as well.
(שמות א, יז) ותחיין את הילדים תנא לא דיין שלא המיתו אותן אלא שהיו מספיקות להם מים ומזון
The verse concludes: “But they kept the male children alive” (Exodus 1:17). A Sage teaches: It is not only that they did not kill the children as Pharaoh had commanded them, but that they would even provide for them water and food, as the phrase “But they kept the male children alive” indicates.
(שמות א, יט) ותאמרן המילדות אל פרעה כי לא כנשים וגו' מאי חיות אילימא חיות ממש אטו חיה מי לא צריכה חיה אחריתי לאולודה
After being questioned by Pharaoh concerning their failure to obey his command, the midwives responded, as it is written: “And the midwives said to Pharaoh: Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women, for they are lively [ḥayot], and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19). The Gemara asks: What is the meaning of “ḥayot”? If we say that the Hebrew women are like ḥayot, meaning actual midwives for themselves, and therefore they do not need assistance from others, is that to say that a midwife does not need the assistance of another midwife in order to help her give birth?
אלא אמרו לו אומה זו כחיה נמשלה יהודה (בראשית מט, ט) גור אריה דן יהי דן נחש נפתלי אילה שלוחה יששכר חמור גרם יוסף בכור שור בנימין זאב יטרף
Rather, the midwives said to Pharaoh: This nation is compared to an animal [ḥayya], and animals give birth without a midwife. For example, with regard to Judah it is written: “Judah is a lion’s whelp” (Genesis 49:9); with regard to Dan it is written: “Dan shall be a serpent in the way” (Genesis 49:17); with regard to Naphtali it is written: “A hind let loose” (Genesis 49:21); with regard to Issachar it is written: “A large-boned donkey” (Genesis 49:14); with regard to Joseph it is written: “His first bullock” (Deuteronomy 33:17); with regard to Benjamin it is written: “A ravenous wolf” (Genesis 49:27).
דכתיב ביה כתיב ביה ודלא כתיב ביה כתיב (ביה) (יחזקאל יט, ב) מה אמך לביא בין אריות רבצה וגו'
The Gemara comments: Concerning those individuals where a comparison to an animal is written with regard to him, it is already written with regard to him. And concerning those where no specific metaphor comparing them to an animal is written with regard to him explicitly, in any case a general comparison is written about the Jewish people: “How your mother was a lioness; among lions she crouched, in the midst of the young lions she reared her whelps” (Ezekiel 19:2), indicating that all the Jewish people are compared to animals.
(שמות א, כא) ויהי כי יראו המילדות את האלהים ויעש להם בתים רב ושמואל חד אמר בתי כהונה ולויה וחד אמר בתי מלכות מ"ד בתי כהונה ולויה אהרן ומשה ומ"ד בתי מלכות דוד נמי ממרים קאתי דכתיב (דברי הימים א ב, יט) ותמת עזובה (אשת כלב) ויקח לו כלב את אפרת ותלד לו את חור וכתיב (שמואל א יז, יב) ודוד בן איש אפרתי וגו'
The verse relates the midwives’ reward: “And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses” (Exodus 1:21). Rav and Shmuel disagree as to the precise interpretation of these houses: One says that God made the houses of the priesthood and the Levites descend from the midwives, and one says that God made the houses of royalty descend from them. The one who says that it is referring to the houses of the priesthood and the Levites is referring to Aaron and Moses, who were sons of Jochebed. And the one who says that it is referring to houses of royalty is referring to David, who also comes from Miriam, as it is written: “And Azubah,” the wife of Caleb, “died, and Caleb took to him Ephrath, who bore him Hur” (I Chronicles 2:19) and, as will be explained further, Ephrath is Miriam. And it is written: “David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah” (I Samuel 17:12). Therefore, he was a descendant of Miriam.
(דברי הימים א ב, יח) וכלב בן חצרון הוליד את עזובה אשה ואת יריעות ואלה בניה ישר ושובב וארדון בן חצרון (במדבר יג, ו) בן יפנה הוא בן שפנה מעצת מרגלים
The Gemara discusses the family of Caleb: In Chronicles it says: “And Caleb, the son of Hezron, begot children of Azubah his wife, and of Jerioth, and these were her sons: Jesher, and Shobab, and Ardon” (I Chronicles 2:18). The Gemara asks: Was Caleb actually the son of Hezron? Wasn’t he the son of Jephunneh, as the verse states in Numbers 13:6? The Gemara answers: He was the son of Hezron, but he is called “son of Jephunneh” as an appellation indicating that he was a son who turned away [sheppana] from the counsel of the spies.
ואכתי בן קנז הוא דכתיב (שופטים א, יג) וילכדה עתניאל בן קנז אחי כלב אמר רבא חורגו דקנז הוה
The Gemara asks: But it is still difficult. Hezron could not be his father, as Caleb was the son of Kenaz, as it is written: “And Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it” (Judges 1:13). This would mean that Caleb was also a son of Kenaz. Rava said: Caleb was the stepson of Kenaz, as he and Othniel shared a mother but had different fathers.