We are starting a new book, Sefer Shmot, and we start with the story of the Slavery in Egypt. And today I want to concentrate in the story of Shifra and Pu’a, the midwives that are commanded by Pharaoh to kill, at the moment of delivery, all male Hebrew babies. The midwives did not carry Pharaoh’s orders and let the boys live.
This might be the first case of civil disobedience ever. Only remember that Pharaoh was not more than just the government, he was the King of Egypt, but he was also worshipped as a god. And it is this Pharaoh who Shifra and Pu’a chose to disobey, because their conscience wouldn’t allow them to do such a horrible thing.
It is interesting that we have the names of the midwives, Shifra and Pu’a, but about the King of Egypt we only know his title: Pharaoh. We are never given a name or any other personal characteristic of him. Of course the title, Pharaoh, brought with it a lot of wealth, luxury and power, but these things can easily collapse on themselves as they are not based on real foundations.
Personal names speak about the real person, reflect who we are, that’s the reason it is stressing for “some parents” to choose a name for their children, because of the weight it has. The Talmud says that a parent is given a little portion of prophecy in order to choose the name that corresponds with the essences of his or her child.
Shifra and Pu’a didn’t have big titles, but after thousands of year we still remember their names and their actions. We honour and admire their courage and morality, their willingness to make a stand in front of the most powerful man of their time.
The Torah says about them that they were the midwives of the Hebrews, but were they Hebrew themselves? Or maybe they were Egyptians that were in charge of the Hebrew births? For some commentators, like Abravanel, Shifra and Pu’a were the first tzadikot umot haolam, righteous upon the nations. They were the prototype of thousands that would follow them, people that saved Jewish lives and that our people has with them a debt of honour and recognition. To all of them, from Shifra and Pu’a, until the moslem citizen that saved people during the Hiper Kasher attack in France this last year, we say thank you and G-d bless you.
And indeed, at the end, the anonymous Pharaoh of our story will disappear in the rubbish bin of history, without a name, without a memory. The compassionate and courageous midwives continue to be an inspiration for the people of Israel and all mankind. Shifra and Pu’a, our heroes.
May the courage, morality and call to action of Shifra and Pu’a, and those of all the Righteous upon the Nations, through all the ages, in all lands and countries, be a call for us, as Jewish People, to be the Righteous upon the Nations for other people as well, for other nations. May we be always on the side of those fighting for justice, for human rights, for life, for equality. May we never be on the side of the oppressors.
May we never be Pharaoh, without a name, but may our actions keep our good name forever and ever.