We read this week, “Vayakam melech chadash al mitzrayim asher lo yadah et Yosef: A new king rose to power who didn’t know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8) The new Pharaoh, not knowing or caring of what Joseph had done for Egypt exercises his power by enslaving the Israelites so that they can not pose a threat to his rule. He speaks to the midwives telling them that if they see a newborn boy, they should kill it.
But, the midwives exercise a different kind of power a spiritual power. “Vayirenah Hamiyaldot et Haelohim ” (Exodus 1:17) Vayirenah – and they feared, though the Hebrew word, Yirah is fear and awe, a sense of something larger and more powerful. The phrase is used in the Torah to invoke a sense of morality as a behavior responding to a higher power. The women did not respond to Pharaoh’s command, but chose instead to respond to a moral standard that exists beyond Pharaoh.
I think about these two kinds of power, political and spiritual, as I reflect on this week’s inauguration and how these types of power play out in our private and public lives. I suspect that different people would see Pharaoh standing for whatever political power they oppose and the midwives for having the morality to stand up to that political power. I found a quote from Albert Einstein that says, “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” That seems to express the sentiments of the midwives and the choice they made not to follow Pharaoh’s order.
Pharaoh’s actions come from a place of fear. Pharaoh is afraid the Israelites will be a threat to his power. Though the Hebrew word “Yirah” often translates into fear, it evokes a higher moral code. The midwives behave from a place of caring. They care about the babies, the families and therefore do not follow Pharaoh’s orders.
It is easier to see how this plays in public life because we look outside ourselves and recognize these two kinds of power in the world around us. I’d like to suggest that these types of power are at play in our inner lives as well and influence our experiences of power.
Do you know that part of yourself that can feel like Pharaoh? That enslaves you to certain ideas, certain beliefs, certain habits? Can you hear the critical voice that talks down to you? Maybe you have an inner Pharaoh that enslaves you to wearing certain clothes, spending time with certain people, eating when you aren’t hungry, to smoking, to spending money, to losing your temper etc.
Listen. Listen. harder. Listen and you will hear the midwives inside you quietly standing for what they think is right and gently nudging you away from following Pharaoh’s orders.