By Rabbi David Cohen
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the first was Shifrah, and the name of the second was Puah. (1:15)
Rashi cites Chazal who say that Shifrah and Puah were none other than Yocheved and Miriam, Moshe Rabbeinu’s mother and sister, respectively. Shifrah was given this name because she beautified the newly-born infant. Puah, Miriam, was given her name because she was poeh, had spoken soothingly, calming down the infant. We note that up until this point Yocheved and Miriam had not been mentioned by their real names. The only names by which we know them are names describing their interaction with the infant. One would think that such elementary and natural activity, something which is commonplace among women, would not draw attention to the extent that it be worthy of acknowledging with a name.
Horav Yerucham Levovitz, zl, the great Mashgiach of the Mir, explains that names are important, playing a critical role in describing a person’s essence. Therefore, when the Torah refers to Yocheved and Miriam as Shifrah and Puah, it is indicating that these names characterize them. A simple, everyday activity has the power to convey the essence of a person. This teaches us that in this world there are no minor actions or major actions. It is all based on the individual who carries out the activity. A great person lives and acts with greatness. Every activity is an indication of his greatness, even the most trivial ones.