By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

This week’s Torah reading describes the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt
in the hands of the Egyptians. In addition to the torturous labor, Pharaoh
summoned Shifrah and Puah, the midwives of the Jewish community, and
instructed them to kill every baby boy born to the Jews. The verse tell us (1:17)
that the midwives feared God and ignored the king’s instructions. Rabbi
Yerucham Levovitz (in Da’as Torah) ponders the fact the Torah bothered telling
us the motive behind the midwives’ decision to disobey Pharaoh. It is not the
style of the Torah to tell us that someone did a good deed “because he was
righteous.” Why did the Torah find the need to tell us that Shifra and Puah’s
decision stemmed from their fear of God?
Rabbi Levovitz concludes that indeed, the Torah is teaching a great lesson.
The choice they made to disregard Pharaoh’s directive was not an easy one to
make. Pharaoh had summoned them in person when he issued this decree. To
blatantly violate Pharaoh’s orders could be expected to result in a death
sentence.

Their decision to defy Pharaoh was indeed a challenging decision for
the midwives to make. How did they gain the strength to resist Pharaoh’s
command? This is exactly what the verse is trying to teach us. They consciously worked to
build up their fear of God in their minds, in order to have the courage to risk
their lives and ignore Pharaoh’s instructions.


This is a big lesson in battling the Yetzer Hara (our evil inclination). When
we are tempted to act in a way we know is less than ideal, we tend to think of
this decision between right and wrong as an isolated
matter. Will we choose the option that is more comfortable or will we
decide to do what’s right? In truth, there is a lot more that goes into the
dilemma. If we find ourselves leaning towards choosing an action which is
wrong, it is stemming from certain corrupt desires which lie within us. Making
the right choice is not just a matter of stronger will. In order to ensure we choose
correctly, we must identify a proper battle strategy to combat the evil within us.
This requires planning, thought and conscious effort, outside the actual dilemma
we are facing.
Someone who once came to stay with Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian for a few days woke up one morning to a strange sight. Early in the morning, he watched Rabbi
Lopian, as he repeated to himself in whispered tones, the verse (Deuteronomy,
7:26), “And you shall not bring an abomination into your house.” He was puzzled
at this sight, for he never heard of such a custom, and he asked Rabbi Lopian for
an explanation of his actions. Rabbi Lopian’s only reaction was expressing his
sincere regret for having awakened his guest and apologizing profusely. The
fellow repeated his plea for an explanation, and Rabbi Lopian relented and said
as follows: “Very soon, the morning services will begin. My seat is situated in an
honorable place by the eastern wall, and throughout the prayers, the
congregation will wait for me to finish. While I am not concerned of this causing
me to feel outright arrogant, it is likely that this may cause minute feelings of
conceit to creep into my mind. In order to combat this potential pitfall, I am
preparing myself by focusing on the fact that the Torah warns us to stay far from
such repulsive feelings, as the verse says (Proverbs 16:5), ‘An abomination to
God is any haughty heart.'”


We must learn to view our fight against the Yetzer Hara as a true war.
When nations prepare for battle, they don’t just send out their soldiers to the
battle field, armed with rifles, and say, “Fight!” Engaging in war requires
meticulous planning and thought-out strategy. The same holds true for our
Yetzer Hara. We can’t just let ourselves face the Yetzer Hara with our punching
gloves when a dilemma arises with the hope that our drive to be good will
prevail. In order to succeed in overcoming this enemy, we must prepare
strategies to empower us in a way that will lead to victory. Preparing one’s self
spiritually by fortifying one’s consciousness with the fear of God or
contemplating the severity of a potential sin, are some methods to overcome
temptations. Everyone knows their own weaknesses, and everyone needs to
utilize the tactics that work for them. The secret to success against the Yetzer
Hara lies in using wisdom to create strategies which undermine his strength.

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