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Mundane Mothering? Building Eternity.

With the idealism of youth, we imagine that our adult days will be filled with significance. Visions of curing cancer, founding major institutions, and grand philanthropy tantalize us. Even those who dream of motherhood envision bright-eyed, adorable children drinking up our wisdom along with homemade soup.


Real life is a rude awakening. Yesterday, I was on the phone for an hour with a medical insurance company. I spent even more time accompanying a child on a search for a winter dress that fit her criteria and my budget.  I drove a child to the dentist. I squeezed in (a few!) homeschool lessons and some work related meetings along with three loads of laundry. I prepared a quick dinner. I don’t remember transmitting any great wisdom to my children and I did not cook a hearty soup. None of my accomplishments seem worthy of my adolescent dreams. And yet I'm satisfied, knowing I am following in the footsteps of two great women in history.


Yocheved (Jochebed) and Miriam were distinguished women and leaders of their generation. They were instrumental in bringing about the Jewish people’s redemption from Egypt.  Yocheved was the mother of Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) and Miriam was his sister. They both feature prominently in the story of the Exodus, but our first introduction to them is in Parshas Shemos (Exodus 1:1 - 6:1) as the Jewish midwives who heroically defied Pharaoh's orders to kill baby boys. Given their importance and prominence, we would expect that the Torah would introduce them to us with their proper names, Yocheved and Miriam. However, instead of identifying them correctly, the Torah names them Shifra and Puah.  These heroic ladies defied Pharaoh's decree and risked death to bring Jewish children into the world.  They were essential to Moshe Rabeinu’s birth and subsequent survival.  They were the matriarchs of Jewish kings and priests.  Miriam especially is mentioned by name repeatedly in the Torah.  Their identities are not secret,  yet the Torah introduces them with pseudonyms.  Why?  


Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105) teaches that the names of Shifra and Puah describe the roles they played as midwives caring for the Jewish newborns. Shifra derives from the Hebrew word for beauty, describing her role of washing and prettying the babies after birth.  Puah’s name means to murmur or croon soothingly, as she did to the infants.


Isn’t it fascinating that with all their noteworthy accomplishments, these great leaders are first identified in the Torah by pseudonyms describing rubbing oils into babies’ skin and whispering soft words in newborns' ears?  Surely they should be introduced by their proper and famous names!  Yet perhaps this is just the point.  Caring for young children, giving them security and love, is the greatest accomplishment there is.  Perhaps there really is no greater honor for these women than to be known forever as the nurturers of babies.


We live in a mixed up world where things of lesser importance seem vital, and truly significant jobs appear trivial.  Shifra and Puah remind us that it isn’t the big, glorious projects as much as the small, mundane acts of loving and nurturing that matter. Brushing our kids’ teeth, singing songs, telling stories - it may feel like nothing important, but that’s incorrect. Parshas Shemos reminds us that each apparently trivial act is the foundation of our entire world . Every mother needs the reminder that it’s precisely the small, unimportant acts that truly matter and are indeed significant. There is no greater honor for Yocheved and Miriam than to be immortalized in the Torah as Shifra and Puah, and there is no greater privilege for us than to follow in their footsteps.


This article is dedicated to the memory of Adir and Shiraz Tamam, parents of Goshen (10) and Gili (8), therapeutic swimming instructors who were brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7. May Hashem comfort their families and avenge their blood.



Time is running out! Join my husband Max and me at our upcoming webinar for married parents, Parenting As Partners. Recording will be sent to all participants.

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