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Dvar for Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

Parshat Shemot documents all the Jews that ended up in Egypt by their names. As the name of the Sefer (“Shemot,” or “names”) suggests, names recorded in the Torah serve the function of defining the essence of that person, place, or object. That’s why we begin with a counting, not of people, but names of people. With this introduction, it’s curious to find that the names of the midwives that helped keep the male newborns alive were recorded as Shifra and Puah. Rashi explains that these women were really Yocheved and Miriam, but that they were called Shifra and Puah because they beautified and cooed to the babies as they were born. Why would those actions warrant a name change, when their more virtuous action was saving these babies’ lives?

Rav Ruderman explains that the greatness of a person is represented not in their grand actions, but in the little things they do. Yes, the women saved babies and were rewarded for that, but their true greatness was in the way they cared for the children when no one noticed. Their private actions are what truly defined them, and it’s what defines us.