Sh’mot is Hebrew for “names.” As God answered, “I, God, am the one who gives humans the ability to speak.” He has given us the words to say when it is necessary for us to speak up. All we need to do is be the best person we can be and respond to the challenges around us with the unique qualities with which we are gifted. We need to just show up and hear the call. In this week’s portion, Moses’ reluctance and excuses not to speak up challenges us to think about what each of us is called to do. It challenges us to question how much we speak and if and when we lead or follow. We are challenged to hold the hand of others and we all try to conquer our fears, as God chose Aaron to speak for Moses, and, therefore, the brothers worked together to guide our people.
In the beginning of this parashah, Sh’mot begins with five righteous women performing two courageous acts of civil disobedience. Shifrah and Puah were Egyptian midwives and refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders to kill male Hebrews at birth. These two brave women possessed the discernment to know what was morally right and the courage to act on it.
Women all around the globe remain unnamed, like many in the Torah. This does not stop them from speaking out against injustice despite the challenges they incur. Three unnamed daughters of Sh’mot’s second act of subversion saved the life of a boy names Moses. These women include a daughter of the tribe of Levi who gave birth to this baby, her daughter, who watched from a distance as her brother’s basket floated down the Nile, and the daughter of Pharaoh who found the infant and saved him in defiance of the law. Although two of these women are later identified as Yocheved and Miriam, their names were not recorded in this parashah. They were meant to be anonymous women who crossed class, ethnic and religious lines to shape the destiny of the world.
All five of these women acted at risk to their own personal safety. These women were resisting oppression and realized nationality does not matter. The Talmud says, “Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is held responsible for the sins of the entire world.”
These women were heroes. Heroes inspire us to action when we might otherwise remain stagnant. Heroes can be found everywhere. When a fireman rescues someone from a burning area, when a stranger helps another leave their home during a disaster, such as the fires and hurricanes we have had this past year, when a neighbor rescues a neighborhood animal running from a scary situation, or when we just lend a hand to someone who needs help crossing the street, we are all heroes. We all need to let this parashah teach us to offer our assistance and be kind to those around us and around the world. We never know the impact our actions may make on the future. One person, helping one person, affects others in a chain through time.
Make a pledge to be that hero every day and perform an act of kindness to help make this world a better place, one person at a time, one day at a time. Together we can make this world a kinder holy land.
Phyllis Bigelson is a WRJ Board member and the WRJ Pacific District Immediate Past President. She is a member of Temple Ahavat Shalom Sisterhood in Northridge, CA.