Parashat Shemot: Consistency – The Greatest Achievement of All
The Torah in Parashat Shemot tells of Pharaoh’s cruel decree that all male infants born to Beneh Yisrael should be put to death immediately at the time of birth. The two Israelite midwives who delivered the nation’s babies heroically defied Pharaoh’s decree, risking their lives in order to protect the newborns.
The Torah identifies these two women by the names “Shifra” and “Pu’a,” but our Sages teach us that these were not their real names. These women were actually Yocheved and Miriam – Moshe Rabbenu’s mother and sister, respectively – but they were referred to as “Shifra” and “Pu’a” because of their expertise and devoted work in caring for the newborn babies under their charge. The name “Shifra” evolves from the Hebrew verb “sh.f.r.,” which means “enhance” or “beautify.” Yocheved earned this name because she skillfully cared for the infants and made them beautiful. And Miriam was named “Pu’a” because of the playful sounds she would make to calm and soothe the infants (“Pu Pu, Ah Ah”).
One Rabbi noted the irony in the fact that Yocheved and Miriam were given names commemorating their work as midwives. These two women were national heroes. They flatly ignored an explicit command of the powerful Egyptian king in order to save countless lives, putting their own lives at risk to this end. Isn’t this heroism more worthy of commemoration in their names than their handling of babies? Why were they named specifically for their work as midwives, and not for their heroism in defying Pharaoh?
We learn from the names “Shifra” and “Pu’a” that consistent, day-to-day devotion is a greater achievement than the “big things” done at special moments. Many, and perhaps even all, people are capable of rising to the occasion at certain times and achieve something great. We oftentimes see community members who excel when they are called upon to join a committee, spearhead a project, or meet a certain urgent need that arose. This is certainly laudable, but the true barometer of greatness is the consistent handling of one’s ordinary day-to-day challenges and responsibilities. There is much to be said for the big moments, and Yocheved and Miriam are undoubtedly known as heroines for their defiance of Pharaoh. But even greater than isolated moments of heroism is lifelong consistency, devotedly tending to one’s duties each and every day, just as Shifra and Pu’a worked devotedly caring for the newborn infants day in and day out.
Many people do not regard parenting as a glorious profession, but in light of this lesson of Shifra and Pu’a, good parenting is the greatest of all achievements. A good parent works consistently, every day, tending to the children’s needs on an ongoing basis. Cooking and serving dinner, helping with homework, chauffeuring to appointments, birthday parties and afterschool programs – each chore on its own may not necessarily reflect greatness, but when all this is done consistently, day after day, week after week, and year after year, it reflects greatness like nothing else.
Certainly, we should aspire to rise to the occasion when the big moments arise, when we are called upon in extraordinary situations to act “heroically” and do something exceptional. But the greatest achievement in life is the day-to-day grind, being consistently good in meeting the tasks that come our way on a daily basis. This is how we become truly great people.