* Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Ever since I read the following thought, written by Moshe Shimon Ofen, I have noticed a change in my behavior on a number of occasions.
"In the Torah portion of Shemot, we learn about two midwives, Shifra and Puah. Pharaoh issues a command to kill all the Jewish babies, but the midwives refuse to comply. The commentator Rashi draws our attention to the meanings of their names.
"Shifrah (beauty) -- because she beautified the newborn infant; Puah (crying) -- because she would cry and talk and coo to the newborn in the manner of women who soothe a crying infant."
In other words, they were not just midwives. They were also comforting, smiling, embracing caregivers who knew how to talk to and calm a baby. In the midst of horrific enslavement, warm and reassuring women suddenly appeared who not only facilitated the birthing process, but caressed and sang songs to the newborn infants.
They were great women not only because they refused to carry out the murderous instructions of Pharaoh, but because they added a smile and a gentle word amidst the hell of Egyptian slavery.
Life is not only about what we do, but how we do it. It's possible to do what is right in a frenzied and unpleasant manner. In contrast to this mode of action, Shifra and Puah inspire us -- whether at home, at work, on the road, or anywhere else -- to add gentleness and smiles to whatever we do and to adopt an embracing attitude towards everyone around us.
And another source of inspiration comes from those who meet life's difficulties with courage
He suffers from cerebral palsy and yet, as of this week, he is also a rabbi. *Uri Yitzchak Shachor*, 25, successfully passed the exams of Israel's Chief Rabbinate. Yesterday he told me about the path to this milestone, a rare achievement that proves how spiritual strength and determination can overcome physical limitations.
"I want the disabled in Israel to have a rabbi," he explained, "someone who truly understands their struggles. The Torah belongs to the entire Nation of Israel, including the disabled. So I told myself: 'In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.' I studied and learned a lot over the years and I succeeded."
"In my childhood, it was difficult, but today I understand that the disabled have tremendous strengths that not everyone sees. When God takes something from the body, he gives something else in its place. True, I am physically disabled, but I learn quickly and my memory is very good. Everything I studied in the Tanach (Bible) and the Gemara I learned by heart. Up till now, I have completed the entire Talmud twelve times."
Sometimes he sees the lives of other people as limited. "The pace of the world is very fast," he says. "Practically everyone is thinking about several things at once. There is almost no importance placed on hard work, on the process. Everything is solely about the end goal. I think that because of my situation I live differently. I appreciate every little thing, every small bit of progress."
Uri studied at the Shavei Shomron Yeshiva and presently studies at the Sderot Yeshiva, where they danced this week in his honor. In successfully completing the rabbinical exams, he wanted to thank these two yeshivas. As he struggled to enunciate each word, I was reminded of another rabbi who appears in this week's Torah portion. He is known as Moshe Rabbeinu and he describes himself as "slow of speech and slow of tongue."
May you enjoy success in all your endeavors, Rav Uri.
One major source of strength and courage is the continuity of Jewish tradition, from the Patriarchs, the generations in Egypt, through years of independence, exile, persecutions and the Holocaust, and on to rebuilding our homeland. A recent discovery of Jewish artifacts in Lodz bears this out.
Polish construction workers in the city of Lodz could not believe their eyes. In the course of digging around the foundations of a building undergoing renovation, they recently found a treasure trove of hundreds of Jewish artifacts, many of them wrapped in newspapers dated October, 1939. They had been preserved in that way for more than 80 years and included candlesticks, Kiddush cups, tableware, holy books, Hanukkah menorahs, and personal items.
Journalist *Ofer Aderet* reports that Jews hid these objects under a building at 23 Polnocna Street at the beginning of the Second World War. They hoped one day to return and retrieve them but never did. Before the Holocaust, one third of the residents of Lodz -- a quarter of a million people -- were Jews, but only several thousand of them survived the war.
David Gorfinkel, a member of the local Jewish community, emphasized that this is a rare discovery, both in quantity and quality. *"I feel that these artifacts want to tell us something,"* he emotionally confessed.
Think about what these objects, more than 400 in number, are telling us. What is the Havdalah set that distingushed between Shabbat and the rest of the week, between the holy and the profane, saying, or the little cups of the children that held wine poured from their father's Kiddush cup, or a mother's silver candlesticks. They are telling us something about special sights and sounds, flavors and fragrances, about tradition and family, about identity and longing, about an attempt at destruction and the triumph of the living.
And now they are trying to find the legal heirs of these artifacts since perhaps there are living descendants of their previous owners. Yet, in a certain sense, all of us -- the entire Jewish people -- are the heirs of these precious treasures.
The book of Genesis is where it all began, These three ideas taken from it:
1. The Torah devotes approximately 30 verses to the creation of the physical universe. Yet 1,500 verses are devoted to the creation's central subject -- the human being. *"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"* -- and the human being. Our principle challenge until today is to be recognized as God's creations in all we do.
2. It is customary to conclude that the book of Genesis has a happy ending. Yosef and his brothers are reconciled, Ya'akov Avinu arrives in Egypt, the family reunites. But not all is well. At the end of Genesis, Ya'akov requests to be buried, sometime in the future, in the Land of Israel and reminds his children: *Our exile is temporary since our ultimate destination is the Land of Israel.* It's nice that the family is reunited but we must also reunite with our homeland. We have a home, and it's not Egypt.
3. This would appear to be the most influential book of all time. *If a poll were taken of the most influential people in human history, Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu would come out on top.* Not because of financial success or military victories or fame; indeed, when they lived, there were empires far more powerful than their household and group of followers, and they were largely anonymous. Yet, until today, they have influenced billions since they founded a family known for its faith, lovingkindness, and radiant light.