The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tevet 21, 5770/January 7, 2010

"Now the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one who was named Shifrah, and the second, who was named Puah."
(Exodus 1:15)

As the book of Exodus opens, two new characters are identified by name. These are Shifrah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives. They are at the receiving end of an executive order delivered directly from the mouth of Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth: "When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death... " (Exodus 1:16) Without hesitation, the two midwives refused to lend their hands to this ghastly decree. The reason? "The midwives feared G-d... " (ibid 1:17)

It apparently wasn't a hard decision for Shifrah and Puah. True, Pharaoh was all-powerful. But their fear was of G-d, and not of Pharaoh. The fear of G-d gave them the moral courage to do the right thing and not to weigh the consequences. Shifrah and Puah were the first two conscientious objectors, the first two practitioners of civil disobedience recorded in Torah. And as a direct result of their trust in G-d, they were not only the midwives of the Hebrew slaves, they were the "birthers" of the Israelite nation.

The two midwives, Shifrah and Puah didn't merely assist in the birth of the male Hebrew babies. Torah tells us that "they enabled the boys to live." (ibid 1:17) What is Torah trying to reveal here?

Shifrah and Puah are named, not simply because of the historic role they played in creating the nation of Israel, but also because their names themselves teach us about who they really were and what they passed on to the people they birthed. The name Shifrah comes from the same Hebrew letters as shofar - the ram's horn we sound on Rosh HaShana. We blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana as a cry out to G-d, to remind Him, as it were, that we are here, to call ourselves to His attention, and to remind ourselves of the very breath that He first breathed in Adam, the first man. The name Puah is based on the Hebrew letters that form the word meaning to groan or to cry out. How appropriate that words associated with our first breath, and with crying out, should form the names of the two Hebrew midwives. After all, it is the cry of a newborn that assures us that he is alive.

Shifrah and Puah recede from the stage of history, and our story continues. We learn of Moshe's birth, his adoption by the daughter of Pharaoh, and his flight to Midian. And then we are told:

"Now it came to pass in those many days that the king of Egypt died, and the children of Israel sighed from the labor, and they cried out, and their cry ascended to G-d from the labor. G-d heard their cry, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaakov." (ibid 2:23 - 24)

The children of Israel cried and G-d heard them. But why only now? They have suffered at the hands of Egypt for many a year, yet only now they cry out? Our sages teach us that until now they were simply too weary to cry, too burdened to lift their voices. But where did they now get their strength to cry out?

Shifrah and Puah gave life to the Hebrew infants not only by delivering them from their mothers' wombs, but by teaching them how to cry out against injustice, how to raise their voices in protest and refuse to defy the word of the G-d of Israel, despite the tyrant's lash. Like their "namesakes," Shifrah called out to G-d, and Puah made it known that the word of G-d still cries forth from our throats from our first breath to our last. And now the infants that they delivered have grown to manhood, and they are crying out to G-d, longing to be delivered once again. Yet it was not the collective volume of their cry that caught G-d's attention, but the moral imperative that filled their cries. How could G-d have ever heeded their cries had the very same Hebrew midwives that birthed them not been fearless and uncompromising in their refusal to carry out Pharaoh's genocidal decree? What moral force would have resonated in G-d's ear and stirred Him to remember His covenant? By defying the will of Pharaoh, Shifrah and Puah delivered not just one generation of Hebrew infants. Their moral stand has delivered the nation of Israel from generation to generation.

Today's Pharaohs are trying to drive the children of Israel from the land of our forefathers. It is the courage of Shifrah and Puah that we need muster today, to make our voice heard, and to refuse to be participants in the plans to bring about our demise. To fear none but G-d, and to answer only to His Torah. This is the way of Shifrah and Puah, midwives and shapers of the Jewish nation.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the issue of "insubordination" and "refusing orders," amongst Torah-observant IDF soldiers, to destroy Jewish homes and expel their occupants. Can such orders be moral and legal? What can we learn from the righteous midwives of Israel, Shifrah and Puah, who were also faced with illegal and immoral orders.

And what about today's liberal intellectual scholars, who solve the "problem" of the Temple Mount once and for all with academic sophistry. "Who wants to build the Temple anyway?" they say. "We're much better off allowing the Moslems to pray there in our stead."

But not all Moslems are against the building of the Holy Temple! An Italian sheik who describes himself as a "Zionist Muslim" visits the Temple Institute in Jerusalem.

Part 1
Part 2