|Midwives Shifrah and Puah|
Shifrah was one of the midwives of the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. Her name means, “to make beautiful,” and she helped birth babies the same way shofar midwifes us into the new year.In her campaign to save Hebrew babies, Shifrah had a co-conspirator named Puah (Exodus 1:15). It turns out that Puah is also connected to shofar.
In a post on Making a Gemsbok Shofar, I describe how the ribbed Gemsbok horns can be stroked as a rhythm instrument. Joy Krauthammer, in her comments to that post, points to a similar Latin American rhythm instrument called a guiro and says it is played with a scraper called a "pua." She then shares:
I love that the PUA is also a name, PUAH, for Miriyahm HaNeviah (Miriam the Prophet). This connection is meaningful to me -- joining woman's voice in Torah to percussion.Puah the shofar is midwife to the new year that is greeted by crying out. Yet she also comforts us with her breath as she coos.
I include PUAH teachings shared from one of my rebbes, Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin:
'Puah' This was Miriam (called Puah) because she cried and talked and cooed to the newborn infant in the manner of women who soothe a crying infant.* Puah is an expression of crying out, similar to “Like a [woman in labor] will I cry" (Isaiah 42:14). Rashi on Sotah 11a explains that she played with the infant to soothe and amuse him. (Rashi to Shemot 1:15, citing Gemara Sotah 11a.)
‘Puah’ is Miriam; and why was her name called Puah? Because she cried out (po'ah) to the child and brought it forth. Another explanation of Puah is that she used to cry out through the Holy Spirit and say: ‘My mother will bear a son who will be the savior of Israel’. (Sotah 11a)
I now understand the reference to Puah in the following poem excerpt:
For the Shofar Blower
By Janet Zimmern
"May the breath of my being
blown into this shofar
back to the shofar
that is Shifra
and the breath
that is Puah."
Finally, the reference to a savior suggests the shofar the that will announce messiah.
* The concern about comforting the baby may be a male perspective. Alternatively, the Jewish Women's Archive suggests, "Puah comes from the Hebrew word to cry out because a midwife tries to calm a new mother’s cries by offering her words of encouragement." (Emphasis added.)
See teaching about Puah elsewhere on this blog.
A wealth of teachings about Shifrah and Puah is in a Dvar Torah on Shmot by Dr. Stephen Rabinowitz, January 16, 2009. It includes the following: "Baal haTurim says that Shifrah refers to the hollow reed 'shifoferes,' a blowing instrument like the shofar, used by a midwife to resuscitate a newborn."
Image is by Mary Ann Rosenbloom and is part of a quilt hanging in Kol Rina, the Nachlaot community shul in Israel, made by a mitzvah quilting group called Quilted Hugs. It not only the midwives standing in the Nile but in the birthing waters, tinged with the blood of the birth and forecasting the blood of the Plagues, Passover and the first born.