Reaching New Heights
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Guest post by Chana Leah Yerushalmi
The art of studying Chumash can be broken down into so many aspects. There’s the basic understanding of the text which as children, we grow up with mostly that understanding of the Torah, and then there's the deeper levels of understanding the Torah which as we get older, more and more layers are revealed to us. But, to reach the level of deep understanding of our Torah we must toil and analyze the studies of our Commentaries and Chassidus.
So when we opened up our Chumashim and began to learn about two of the most iconic woman in Jewish history, Yocheved and Miriam, I knew I was going to be gaining a deeper understanding of who these two women really are, even more then I have ever gained before. Little did I know how much one can gain when you take a seemingly simple idea and extract from it its very core. The once simple idea, no longer remains simple at all, it becomes life changing. That is exactly what happened upon stumbling on the Passuk in Chumash where Yocheved and Miriam are introduced to us for the very first time. Yet, for some reason they are introduced to us by their nicknames Shifra and Puah. Rashi explains in his simple manner that we know these nickname are referring to Yocheved and Miriam by the fact that each name is a nickname given to them in reference to their specific jobs with the newborns. Shifra alludes to Yocheved, since her job was to clean (משפרת) the child and Puah alludes to Miriam, since she would calm the baby with her power of speech (אפעה).
Based on what was just explained a very strong question arises. Why would these holy women who have contributed an immense amount to the Jewish people during this time period, be introduced to us in the Torah for the first time with such seemingly trivial and disrespectful names? Names that does not honor who they really are, the full extent of what they contributed or their caliber of greatness.
Our Commentaries address this question and answer it with a Drush leveled answer. They state that the reason why these women were mentioned by their nicknames was because, these names signified their most essential job and contribution they gave. Zooming in on Miriam, we can understand that the idea of speech which is brought out in the word Puah, is the greatest contribution and quality Miriam had. With her power of speech Miriam gave over the famous Nevuah, thus enabling the Jewish nations redeemer to be born and save the entirety of our nation.
But of course there is no coincidence in the Torah. The fact that these women are brought in and mentioned for the first time juxtaposed to their job as caregivers for the next generation, must teach us, the women of today, an enormous message about who we are and what our role really is. But before we can understand what we can learn from them, we have to understand who exactly is it that we're learning from.
These women were the ultimate example of people who stood up for their morals and what they believed in. One Commentary explains upon analyzing the text and its choice of words, that the text uses an odd grammar choice regarding Pharaoh’s commandment to the Meayaldos. The Passuk states: The midwives feared G-d….. and did not do what the king of Egypt had told אליהן - about them. אליהן usually is translated as about them, but in this context it seems grammatically unfit. It would have been more accurate for the Passuk to say “the command told to them”, since the commandment seemingly was told to them and not about them. The commentary explains that the reasoning behind this unfit grammar choice is to teach us that Pharaoh's command was not about the baby's, but it was about the women! Pharaoh had ordered the women to have relations with him yet they refused and didn't listen albeit the consequences to their actions which could ultimately mean death. What was the strength behind these women's decisions? It was the knowledge that if they, the feminine leaders of the jewish woman body, gave in to Pharaohs demands then this can badly affect the morale of all the Jewish woman. They understood the brilliance behind Pharoah’s plan; by targeting the Jewish woman's leaders and forcing upon them their spiritual downfall, it will cause a ripple effect on the entire Jewish nations continuity. Thereby, causing the destruction of the whole nation. Yet, these Jewish heroines stood steadfast in their convictions and values.
Aside for all their heroism and bravery there is a deep lesson we can come out with by understanding Yocheved and Miriam's first and foremost role mentioned in the Torah, their ability to be a caregiver and raise a child with their unique qualities. It seems rather unfair that although we know later on from the Torah that they took on roles of leadership etc, that they were first introduced to us as just simple midwives.
The Torah introduced them to us precisely in this matter, to teach women the most valuable lesson of what it means to really be a women. That the most impressive, important and praiseworthy title and job we can give to a woman is her role as a caregiver for her children. Only after that you establish what your primary role is, then can you accomplish your other gifts and capabilities.
These days you see woman of all sorts of backgrounds who are thirsting for meaning and purpose and to give over and share all the amazing qualities they are blessed with, but a lot of them seem to forget their most honorable and beautiful gift they were given is to raise their children. So many idealistic Shluchim who are running out and trying to save the world yet forget that as women before anything else comes their children. We learn from Shifra and Puah what it means to give our full undivided attention to children. Our children need those loving reassuring words those soft caresses and hugs, the knowledge that they are always on your mind and are your first priority. Only after we establish who we are and what our primary role is, only then can we explore our talents and capabilities and reach out to the public.
So many children are struggling with so many issues in today's day and age, whether it be physical or spiritual. How much longer will it take society to understand that proudly claiming that your primary role is being a mother to your children, is nothing to be ashamed of. How long will it take women to realize that being a mother as a primary role does not negate our abilities to accomplish and immense amount out of the house. It's just about our priorities! Who is our priority in our life, our work requirements out of the home or our child whom we lovingly raised? Our children are our biggest accomplishments we can show for ourselves. And that is what Yocheved and Miriam understood they understood that this was the future of the next generation and they took to their job with utmost care and devotion.
So many times we lose focus and lose our direction, but we have to keep on reminding ourselves that we have the Torah which is our map leading us to the proper destination. We must understand that nothing is stated in Torah by default and that every little nuance mentioned in the Torah has layers upon layers to uncover. With every layer we uncover with the help of our sages, teachers and Rebbeim, we can understand a whole new understanding of the core of what the matter really is. Each word takes you on a journey, a journey to uncover an immense amount of interpretations, and when we think we have reached the end we realize it is only the beginning.