The king of Egypt said to
the Jewish midwives, that the name of one was Shifrah, and the name of the
second, Puah. And he said, "When you deliver [the Jewish women, you shall see on the birthstool;] if it is a son then you shall kill him, and if it is a daughter, she may live" (Exodus 1:15-16)
Rashi says that Shifrah and Puah were in actuality
Yocheved and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moses and Aaron.
Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech states that Pharaoh knew that
asking the Jewish midwives to destroy male newborns would be futile, and that their high moral values would never permit them to commit so heinous a deed. He therefore began an insidious effor to undermine their moral values, and the very first step was to give them Egyptian names. They were no longer to be called Yocheved and Miriam, but Shifrah and Puah. This first tiny step of Egyptian enculturation would be followed by another, and then yet another, until eventually their assimilation would be so complete that they would be detached from traditional values, even so far as to ultimately consent to infanticide.
Obviously, one does not jump from a name change to
infanticide, but a gradual erosion of ethics and values may very well begin with what may appear to be an innocent deviation from tradition. Tiny increments of alien enculturation could follow one upon another, virtually imperceptibly, until the separation from one's value system is total.
"[The midwives] did not do as the king of Egypt
bade them and they let the children live" (1:17). This verse is not repetitive, but refers to two separate actions. Firstly, they rejected the Egyptian names and refused to initiate any deviation from tradition. As a result of their maintaining their Jewish identity, they avoided progression into pagan mentality, and hence prevented their moral deterioration into infanticide.
The message is clear. Violation of the basic ethics
and morals of Judaism may begin with what appears to be a rather trivial and innocent departure from tradition.