The Five Books of Moses and the weekly Torah portions in synagogues are usually named after the first significant word in each book. For example, Shemot (Name in English) comes from the initial notable word in the opening sentence of The Book of Exodus.
These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt” (Exodus 1:1). In Hebrew, it is expressed as “Eleh Shemot B’nei Yisrael…”
While this terminology may seem straightforward, various interpretations have arisen regarding its significance. Recently, Rabbi Shipell of Lockdown University shared an intriguing perspective on this matter.*1
Some characters are explicitly named in The Book of Exodus, while many remain anonymous. Despite their lack of individual recognition, the collective impact of these unnamed figures is paramount. As our Passover Haggadah text emphasizes, without their specific contributions, “we, our children, and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt.”
A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son.” (Exodus 2:1-2)
Among the first individuals explicitly named in the text are the Egyptian midwives to the Hebrews, Shifra and Puah. Their actions constitute the world’s earliest recorded instance of civil disobedience in historical narrative.
Now, the king of Egypt spoke to the Egyptian midwives, one who was named Shifrah and the second who was named Puah. And he said, “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” (Exodus 1:17-21)
In defiance of Pharaoh’s orders, these midwives chose not to comply.
The midwives, however, feared God, so they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them, but they enabled the boys to live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said, “Why have you done this thing that you have enabled the boys to live?”
Another figure who defied Pharaoh’s immoral decrees was the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe in the Nile, and her maidens were walking along the Nile, and she saw the basket in the midst of the marsh, and she sent her maidservant, and she took it. She opened it, and she saw him, the child, and behold, he was a weeping lad, and she had compassion on him, and she said, “This is one of the children of the Hebrews.” (Exodus 2:5-6)
This narrative is the origin story of how Moses was rescued from certain death and subsequently named and adopted by the Egyptian princess. Notably, Pharaoh’s daughter remains unnamed in this account, yet she is the one who bestowed the name Moses upon the child—a name that persists to this day!
She bestowed upon him the name Moses, declaring, “For I drew him from the water” (Exodus 2:10), as expressed in the Hebrew phrase “min hamayim mishitihu.”
In the wake of the seventy-eighth anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, tales of unsung heroes continue to emerge, shedding light on individuals whose pivotal contributions were instrumental in securing victory. One such hero is Juan Pujol García, a Portuguese-born double agent whose bravery and cleverness played a crucial role in achieving victory during the war.
Juan Pujol García’s bold actions were crucial to the Allied victory. In the early 1930s, Pujol, driven by a strong desire to thwart Hitler’s ambitions, began a daring journey. His decision not to join Franco’s fascist army in Spain marked the start of a secretive mission, during which he adeptly posed as a loyal Nazi.
Pujol’s ingenuity led him to send deceptive reports to Germany, earning the trust of the Nazis and eventually a mission to recruit double agents in Britain. He staged an elaborate deception on English soil, creating a fake network of English double agents that confused the German High Command. Discovered by MI-6, the British intelligence agency, Pujol was officially enlisted as “Agent Garbo,” a skilled master of deception.
Agent Garbo’s strategic brilliance shone through as he skillfully deceived the German High Command several times, changing the course of history in favour of the Allies. Using creative tactics, he orchestrated the fabrication of convincing decoys such as balloon tanks and rows of planes, leading to German misperceptions about the upcoming Allied invasion.
Agent Garbo’s legacy highlights how personal courage and strategic thinking can influence the world. Surviving the war, Pujol penned his memoir, “Operation GARBO: The Personal Story of the Most Successful Double Agent of World War II,” co-authored with Nigel West and published on January 1, 1985. In our modern era, these stories of heroism remind us that the spirit of courage and selflessness still plays a role in shaping history, encouraging us all to embrace the heroic within ourselves.
The likes of Juan Pujol García are only now coming to light, uncovering many unknown heroes who silently played a crucial role in shaping history.
While watching “Simone, Woman of the Century,” I was introduced to another extraordinary figure—Simone Veil.
Veil’s life unfolded from a happy childhood in a secular Jewish family to the distressing events of her arrest and deportation to Auschwitz. The story highlights key moments, such as her high school graduation and her achievements after the war—marriage, raising a family, earning a French law degree, serving in the French government, and addressing issues faced by prisoners of war and drug users. Notably, she played a crucial role in securing legal abortion rights in a primarily Catholic country. Her journey concluded with her becoming the European Parliament’s first president, significantly contributing to preventing historical conflicts that troubled Europe for centuries.
This extraordinary odyssey often evokes the famous line spoken by Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
Simone Veil’s lasting impact demonstrates the profound influence one person can have on shaping a brighter future. Her commitment to political leadership, resilience, and passionate advocacy for women’s rights have left an indelible mark on history. Beyond politics, Veil’s passionate advocacy for women’s rights inspires those working towards gender equality. Veil’s profound dedication to preserving the memory of the Holocaust underscores the importance of collective remembrance and justice. Her legacy is a living testament to the positive change achievable through unwavering dedication and a steadfast belief in a better tomorrow.
- Rabbi Shipell, affiliated with Lockdown University, conducts a weekly seminar delving into the Torah portion of the week on the Lockdown University platform. For subscription inquiries, please contact the Lockdown University Staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.