Shemot, which means “names” in Hebrew, is the 13th weekly reading portion from the Torah and covers Exodus 1:1 through Exodus 6:1.
As we read of the Israelites’ prosperity in Egypt, a theme of oppression, slavery and murder emerges as the pages reveal an Egyptian pharaoh growing more and more threatened by the populous Hebrew nation.
Calling upon the two main Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah, Pharaoh issued a grim decree to kill all Hebrew males at birth, eventually obliterating the Hebrew nation.
Dangerously defying the most powerful man in the empire, Shifra and Puah refused to appease the tyrant through infanticide.
Thus, because of these tenacious women, subsequent generations of Israelites thrived. If not for them, we would have no Passover, no story of Mount Sinai, no Torah as we know it – and quite frankly, no “us.”
Sages and scholars disagree on exactly who these heroines actually were. Some propose that they were Moses’ mother and sister. Others suggest that, as prominent and well-skilled women, they needed no further explanation.
Still others offer that these midwives may have been righteous gentiles or converts. That idea could be a stretch, but after all, does it really matter?
The Torah does not offer much more information about their backgrounds, because it’s their actions that tell us who they really were. Behind the humble introduction and brief story, we glimpse all that we need to.
The power of their legacy yet inspires us, because regardless of who we are, we can still follow this amazing example of standing up for what we know is right. In carrying on Shifra’s and Puah’s example in our own lives, we also create a powerful legacy for those who follow us and, in turn, may one day actually live by our stories.