God is in the details

The opening chapters of Shemot like all texts need to be read slowly with an eye and heart for detail.

Pharaoh introduces the unimaginable atrocities against the Jews with a decree that all Jewish males born must be killed at birth, he perversely commissions the Jewish midwives to carry this out. Relief is temporarily found in the account when we discover how they smartly are unable to carry out these orders.Later these heroines continue in their defiance. Rashi enlightens us of the identity of the two midwives singled out in the story; Shifra is Yochebed and Puah is Miriam. Yochebed has a child, Miriam will later ensure his safety. The child can no longer be concealed from the new decree where now the people are commanded to actively seek out the boys and throw them in the Nile. A plan is devised and the child is put in a basket and placed in the Nile. The drama, tension and uncertainty is excruciating 2:4;
וַתֵּֽתַצַּ֥ב אֲחֹת֖וֹ מֵֽרָחֹ֑ק לְדֵעָ֕ה מַה־יֵּֽעָשֶׂ֖ה לֽוֹ
His sister stood from afar, to know what would be done to him.

The term “Mah ye’aseh lo”, what will be done to him is striking. This time her defiance is not directed to Pharaoh, rather to God. For me the term conjures another decisive moment of daring courage. Back in Bereishit 18:28, Abraham, challenges God’s intent to destroy Sodom, he asserts;
חָלִ֨לָה לְּךָ֜ מֵֽעֲשׂ֣ת כַּדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה לְהָמִ֤ית צַדִּיק֙ עִם־רָשָׁ֔ע וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּֽרָשָׁ֑ע חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַֽעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט:
Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?

With a sharp eye for details and a keen memory of her foundational stories, Miriam is evoking the Ya’aseh, looking up perhaps and demanding “to know” and see that God does the right thing.

Later in the Book of Shemot, poetically our ultimate salvation too is prompted and rewarded through the very same term and perhaps on the back of that very act. The Jews have left Egypt and they are literally and figuratively between a rock and a hard place. They are understandably frightened, Moshe assures them 14:13;
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֣ה אֶל־הָעָם֘ אַל־תִּירָ֒אוּ֒ הִתְיַצְּב֗וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֶת־יְשׁוּעַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם כִּ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר רְאִיתֶ֤ם אֶת־מִצְרַ֨יִם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם לֹ֥א תֹסִ֛פוּ לִרְאֹתָ֥ם ע֖וֹד עַד־עוֹלָֽם:
Moses said to the people, Don’t be afraid! Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that He will do for you today, for the way you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall no longer continue to see them for eternity.

Miriam’s bravery if not audacity of waiting from a far (both in space and in time) to see “Mah Ye’aseh” what will be done, is in a sense given expression again through the stunning term אֶת־יְשׁוּעַ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם the Lord’s salvation that He will do… God is indeed in the details…

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has a rich background in camping, running various camps in England where he grew up and later serving as the Education Director at Ramah Poconos. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom has a strong passion for teaching, feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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