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"Who Is Righteous?"

12/26/2018 02:56:40 PM

Dec26

Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CHc, USN (ret)

I have only just returned this week from my thirty-sixth trip to Eretz Yisrael/Medinat Yisrael (the Land of Israel/the State of Israel).  Since I have made so many trips to our homeland, I rarely do "the tourist thing" anymore, and I stay away from those spots that are usually described those who have made less than a handful of trips as "something you need to go see."  But there is one place I have not seen since my first trip in 1991, and that is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum dedicated to the victims of the Shoah. Just a few years ago, Yad Vashem was redesigned and reopened.  I need to see this landmark that has prompted so many other Holocaust memorial museums.   Why do I mention this at this particular time?  I do so because of two important women found in this week's parashah, Parashat Shemot, better known in English as the Book of Exodus.  At this time of the twentieth anniversary of the release of the Steven Spielberg film "Schindler's List," we again take note of the non-Jewish German Oskar Schindler, who joined some 25,000 non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue our people during this horrific time and are rightly known as the "Righteous Among the Nations."  Only those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to rescue Jews are given this title, and it may surprise you to know that the first two people in human history who can be referred to as such are found in Parashat Shemot.  Who were these people?  They were Shifra and Puah.

When the Pharaoh "who knew not Yoseyf" came to power, fearful that the B'Nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) would increase their numbers so greatly that they could join the enemies of Mitzrayim (Egypt) and overthrow it, he ordered the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Puah, to kill all baby boys born to the B'nei Yisrael.  They, of course, did not do so.  Why?  Because according to some these women were identified as none other than Yocheved and Miryam, Moshe's mother and sister.  But if we look at both the Hebrew words used to describe these women and the context in which they were described, we find something quite remarkable.

"Meyaldot ha-Ivriot," the Hebrew words used to describe Shifra and Puah, can be literally translated as "Hebrew midwives."  But these two words can also be translated as "midwives for Hebrew women." Translated as such, we can identify Shifra and Puah as Egyptian women who were commanded by Pharaoh to carry out his genocidal order.  Why did they not do so?  Why did they risk their lives by defying Pharaoh's order?  Because the Torah tells us that they feared G'd.  It is interesting to note that when the Tanakh, (the Hebrew Scriptures) refers to "the fear of G'd," it is more often than not used to describe the behavior of exceptional (i.e.- "righteous") non-Jews.  So it is that Shifra and Puah were the first people in our history who risked their lives to save our people.  Incredibly, the Torah identifies them as Hebrews.

In the last poignant scene of "Schindler's List," Oskar Schindler is given a gold ring by his workers which is engraved with this quote from the Talmud Bavli: "Whoever saves one life saves the entire world."  Oskar Schindler didn't merely save more than a thousand Jewish lives by doing what he did; he saved a thousand entire worlds.  You see this fact in a scene at the end of the movie showing all those who were saved by Schindler who were still alive at the time of the making of the movie along with all of their families consisting of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  Shifra and Puah saved the life of baby Moshe thus becoming the first "Righteous Among the Nations."  In our world, today, at this time, Barukh Hashem there are millions of non-Jews who can be called the same, because they are more than willing to stand up and be counted by supporting the People Israel, the State of Israel, and the Land of Israel.

Tue, February 19 2019 14 Adar I 5779