[Based on Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus zt”l: Tiferes Shimshon]
In Shmos 1:15, the Torah tells us that the incredibly righteous and brave women who defied Paraoh, and saved the Jewish firstborn males from being tossed into the Nile, were named Shifra and Puah:
וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לַמְיַלְּדֹת הָעִבְרִיֹּת אֲשֶׁר שֵׁם הָאַחַת שִׁפְרָה וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִית פּוּעָה
Rashi comments that Shifra was Moshe Rabbeinu’s mother, Yocheved; Puah was Moshe’s sister, Miriam:
שפרה: זו יוכבד על שם שמשפרת את הולד
פועה: זו מרים שפועה ומדברת והוגה לולד כדרך הנשים המפייסות תינוק הבוכה
A glaring question arises: Why does the Torah uses these alternate names? Here is Yocheved, a woman of 123 years, one of the 70 people who went down with Yaakov to Egypt, the daughter of Levi; and Miriam – a neviah…were they not worthy of being identified by their originally-given names?!
Furthermore, the names describe the seemingly mundane actions they performed, making them no different than any standard baby nurse. Their names don’t call our attention to their bravery and heroism, rescuing Jewish babies, risking their lives in defiance of a cruel tyrant! Instead, they are spotlighted for beautifying babies and making gentle cooing sounds — What kind of tribute is this to the real sacrifices they made?
Rav Pincus zt”l explains that this attention to detail and concern for the small things, is part of what made Miriam and Yocheved so great.
He uses a mashal of a baby that is sick in the hospital, lo aleinu. The doctors are working round-the-clock to try and save the baby and figure out the cause of the illness. But the mother is sitting calmly with the baby, speaking softly in his ear, and trying to eek out a smile, telling herself and the baby that it will all be OK. The doctors are rightfully consumed by the big stuff – the baby’s heart rate or white blood cell count, etc. They can’t worry about the baby’s happiness level or whether the baby is calm or in fear.
The baby’s mother, however, looks at her sick child, speaks softly to him, and just hopes she can bring a momentary smile to his face.
Miriam and Yocheved essentially played both roles, of heroic doctor and caring mother. In the most horrifying circumstances, trying to rescue the lives of these babies who were otherwise sentenced to be drowned to death, Miriam and Yocheved also endeavored to give these babies some semblance of normalcy, by soothing and comforting them, paying attention to the little things. Even during chaos and oppression, they were Shifrah and Puah.
This, says Rav Pincus, demonstrated to Hashem that Miriam and Yocheved were zocheh to become the mothers of klal Yisrael, as noted in the text and in Rashi on 1:24:
וַיְהִי כִּי יָרְאוּ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים
ויעש להם בתים: בתי כהונה ולויה ומלכות שקרויין בתים
Rav Pincus also includes a story about Rav Shlomo Heiman ztl. His wife was a huge ba’alat tzeddakah, who was particularly focused on helping financially-troubled orphans find enough money to make a wedding.
The Rebbitzen had once planned an entire wedding from A to Z, and raised a lot of money so the simcha could take place. Reb Shlomo gets to the wedding early, and asks his wife if she remembered to buy flowers for the bride to hold. The Rebbitzen answered that she had forgot to get flowers, and figured that since she put the entire wedding together, the small omission of flowers would be OK. Reb Shlomo replied that the flowers were a necessity – why? Not just so this bride could look and feel like every other bride, but because that is the type of small detail that mothers make sure to take care of for their daughters. In this instance, Rebbetzin Heiman wasn’t just a tzeddaka collector; she was also functioning as this orphaned girl’s mother, which required the highest level of attention to detail.
In thinking about this idea from Rav Pincus, I believe there is a related lesson with regards to different types of tzeddakah and kindness. Without making any qualitative distinctions whatsoever, there is the type of tzeddakah done slightly removed from the recipient (such as making a donation), and then there is tzeddakah done up close and personal. The latter requires a unique type of effort, sacrifice and frame of mind. Yocheved and Miriam – Shifra and Puah – weren’t writing checks or prescribing medicine from afar. They were the personal helpers to the newborn babies and their mothers at an incredibly frightening time in our history. They stood on the front lines and got their hands dirty, so to speak.
During this final month before Daniella’s yahrtzeit, I hope to try and highlight at least one or two of Daniella’s amazing qualities in connection with the upcoming parshiot.
Of the many beautiful recollections spoken and written about Daniella since last January, one of the most prominent in my mind is how many people shared their memories of Daniella introducing herself and befriending others. She made people feel welcome and comfortable almost instantaneously. So many girls at shiva said that Daniella was the first person to introduce herself to them, whether at school, camp, seminary, shul, shabbos meal, etc. That is a kindness and a form of tzeddakah of a uniquely engaging and personal nature. Daniella’s qualities of introducing herself to strangers, breaking the ice, bringing people together, making outsiders feel like they belong, working as a HASC counselor, etc., is the type of tzeddakah that forces you to get your hands dirty. It is kindness that cannot be quantified in dollars and cents, rather in personal and emotional investment. Daniella’s attention to the small things, her concern for others and her willingness to truly give of herself to others, were among the many gifts she bestowed upon this world.