A Mother’s Greatness
I have used several nice haggadot over the years, but this year was the first time I encountered a haggadah which is a true page-turner. Which I found so fascinating and inspiring that I read every word, from the introduction to the very last page (even after the seder was already behind me). The Eishes Chayil Haggadah by Rabbi Dov Weller (Artscroll) focuses on the greatness of the Jewish woman and the importance of her role, here’s one of my favorite excerpts. Rabbi Weller writes:
To prevent the rapid growth of the Jewish population, Pharaoh ordered the head midwives, Shifrah and Puah, to kill all Jewish newborn baby boys as soon as they were born.
Who were Shifrah and Puah?
The Talmud tells us they were Yocheved and Miriam. Yocheved was called Shifrah because she משפרת את הולד, she made the babies “beautiful” and healthy by caring for the baby after it was born. Miriam was called Puah because she would make sounds such as “pu pu” in order to calm the crying babies.
Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, the rosh hayeshivah of Ponovezh, looks more closely at these brave women and their names…
Why would the Torah introduce them first not by their real names, but by terms that signified their roles as midwives?
If the Torah wanted to begin by letting us know the qualities of these women, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to mention that they were both prophetesses? Or that they were the sister and mother of the gadol hador, the greatest leader of the generation, Moshe Rabbenu?
Even if the focus was to be the astounding courage of these two women who were willing to give up their lives by defying Pharaoh’s direct orders to kill the Jewish babies, why introduce them by names that signify such seemingly small and insignificant acts? Why not proudly proclaim they were Yocheved and Miriam?
Rav Rozovsky concludes that the highest acclaim one can give Yocheved and Miriam is to point out that they did what Jewish mothers throughout generations have done: they cared for their children and lovingly ensured that all their needs were met.
The ultimate greatness of a woman is not the fact that she is an author, lawyer, rebbetzin, acclaimed speaker, chesed organizer, or even, in the case of Miriam and Yocheved, a prophetess.
In the eyes of the Torah the Jewish woman receives the highest praise for taking care of her family. Thus, Yocheved and Miriam are first introduced to us as Shifrah and Puah, those who cared so tenderly for the children of Israel.