Hebrew girls were allowed to live, but boys were to be thrown into the Nile. Midwives were warned to check the ovnayim (Ex. 1:16) to see whether the baby was male or female, and to act accordingly.
Ovnayim is usually translated “birthstool”, but the word is not found with this meaning anywhere else in Scripture. In fact it appears only once more in Tanach, in Jeremiah 18:4, where it means a potter’s wheel. Following this approach, the Midrash suggests that it means “the place in which the child turns”, i.e. the womb.
The task of the midwives was ur’iten – “and you shall look”.
“And you shall look” appears three times in the Torah: here, where there is a duty to look at the ovnayim; Num. 13:18, “you shall look at the land”; and Num. 15: 39, “you shall look at the fringes”.
In Pirkei Avot (3:1), Akavya ben Mahalalel tells us to look at three things in order not to come into the power of sin – where we have come from, where we are going, and before Whom we have to give account and reckoning.
The two lists of three may be connected. Looking at the moment of birth tells us where we have come from, looking at the land symbolises where we are going, and looking at the tzitzit represents the Divine judge who scrutinises all our deeds.
It’s a nice thought, and never more relevant than in the world of today.
Not everybody is realistic enough to recognise that they have to come to terms with who they are and where they came from.
It’s not just that some resort to plastic surgery so that they will look different, but so many still have serious hang-ups about their background and parentage.
It does no-one any good to wish they were someone else or someone else’s child. The fact is that you are who you are, and your task is to be the best possible you.
Some do not want to look where they are going. There is no guarantee of anything in life, no cast-iron way of ensuring that all your goals will be reached or your ambitions realised: but to blunder from situation to situation without any clear goals or defined ambitions robs your life of direction and purpose.
And not recognising that there will come a moment of reckoning removes responsibility from life. Deeds do have consequences. There is a judge, and the only barrister able to get a positive verdict is the counsel created by the decent, upright, caring things we have done in life.
Nothing else works.