We read in the Torah narrative of our oppression in Egypt, beginning with Pharaoh ordering all Jewish males to be murdered at birth. Due to the heroic actions of two women, Shifrah and Puah, the ruler’s diabolical plan was thwarted.
Commentaries abound about these women--they were Egyptian, they were Jewish, they were Moses’ mother and sister, but one thing is indisputable: their names. They were named for the actions they performed in childbirth. One (Shifrah) would smooth the baby’s limbs and the other (Puah) would coo gently to the newborn.
It is strange that these mundane activities would be the basis for their names. Rabbi Isaachar Frand suggests that their names might have more appropriately been G’oola and Hatzilah, Redemption and Saving. Instead of focusing on the huge and dangerous acts of kindnesses they were doing, their names tell of the small, comforting things they did.
A story is told in the Talmud of Rabbi Yossi who taught Torah under threat of death by the Romans. A colleague visited him and asked why he was risking his life when God had obviously allowed the Romans to hold sway. He replied that he felt it was his duty. Yossi then asked his friend if he thought he would merit the World-to-Come. His friend asked him what good things he had done in his life, to which Yossi replied, “I once had money for tzadakah that I put in my pocket with my own money. When I reached the synagogue, since I had mixed the monies together, I gave everything I had in my pocket to charity.” Yossi’s friend then told him that he certainly merited a place in Olam HaBah!
These examples show us that it is not the headline-grabbing actions that define us and earn us our Reward, but the small kindnesses we perform on a daily basis. How fortunate that all of us have daily opportunities to perform such acts.
May we all look for ways to show and act on our impulses of kindness--every day!
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman