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The Shifra & Puah of Today
By R. Gershowitz
What new directive did the Rebbe give between Musaf and Mincha on Yom Kippur 5737? * How did one of the largest Chabad chesed organizations come to be? and how did it become a model for other mosdos? * The founding of Shifra U’Puah

Of all days of the year, it happened on the sacred day of Yom Kippur 5737 (1976). The large crowd of Chassidim in the Rebbe’s beis midrash had finished the lengthy Musaf prayer and were having a brief recess before Mincha. The Rebbe MH”M had gone up to his room, and the crowding down below intensified in anticipation of Napoleon’s March at Ne’ila.

It was at this lofty moment that Rabbi Shlomo Maidanchik was called into Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Chadakov’s room. Rabbi Maidanchik realized something was afoot. As soon as he entered R’ Chadakov’s room, he was informed of a new directive from the Rebbe: “To establish a new organization in Kfar Chabad, an organization that will help new mothers with their physical needs. The Rebbe also said not to differentiate between the wealthy and the needy; otherwise the latter will be embarrassed to accept the help. If they know that even wealthy new mothers accept the same type of help, they will accept the assistance with a feeling of dignity.”

Rabbi Chadakov concluded, “The Rebbe has also named the new organization Shifra U’Puah, after the midwives who devoted themselves to the new mothers and their children in Mitzrayim.”

Rabbi Maidanchik listened closely to the directive the Rebbe had uttered only moments before, and left the room deep in thought. Suddenly he recalled the famous story about the Alter Rebbe:

On the holy day of Yom Kippur, the congregation filled the large beis midrash. They all waited for the Alter Rebbe, but he seemed to have disappeared. Where had he gone? What had delayed him? Had the tzaddik gone to annul some terrible decree that hung over them, ch’v? The people worried, but it was only quite some time later that the Alter Rebbe finally came to the beis midrash and the davening could resume.

It turned out that in some forsaken hut at the edge of the city lived a poor woman who had just given birth. The family was so poverty stricken that they didn’t even have firewood to warm the tiny dwelling. It was frigid outside, and the strong winds penetrated the unfortunate hovel through the broken windows and the poorly constructed walls. The Alter Rebbe was aware that the woman had no one to help her, so he went to personally cut the firewood and build a fire, cook some soup on it, and serve it to the woman so she could regain her strength…

Rabbi Maidanchik pondered the similarities: Yom Kippur, concern for new mothers. The parallel to what had happened 200 years earlier with the Alter Rebbe was striking.

The very next day, R’ Shlomke asked his friend, Rabbi Drizin, to join him in fundraising in Crown Heights in order to get the new organization off the ground. They were very successful despite the novelty of the mosad, especially considering the fact that no one had thought of the need of founding an organization to help new mothers. No one, that is, but the Rebbe.

* * *

Twenty-three years have passed since then and the fledgling organization has become a giant mosad chesed. Shifra U’Puah is not a Lubavitcher organization that operates solely in Kfar Chabad. It is a mosad with branches in Matulla, Atlit, Petach Tikva, Bnei Brak, and Nachalat Har Chabad. New mothers receive emotional support and encouragement, and most importantly, the physical help which the Rebbe considered so vital.

Despite the plethora of chesed organizations in Eretz Yisroel, there is nothing like Shifra U’Puah. This holy organization doesn’t overlook anyone, providing whatever is needed to help out in those first trying weeks after childbirth.

Other Chassidic groups have emulated Shifra U’Puah, and have learned how to provide similar support within their communities.

In preparing to write this article, I heard a great deal from those who organize Shifra U’Puah’s activities. One of the largest branches, which is in Kfar Chabad, is run by Mrs. Shoshana Rottenberg and Mrs. S. Rivkin. When you hear them describe the scope of the organization’s work, you can’t help but be impressed.

“In most of the branches, the help extended includes all areas in the day-to-day life of a new mother and her family,” explains Mrs. Rottenberg. “We strengthen the weak links within a family during this time. After all, the new mother gave birth away from home, and now she needs to restore her strength in order to continue in her role as mother and wife.”

What kind of help do you provide?

“During the first weeks after a birth, we send a housekeeper at our expense and a babysitter for the children when they come home from school. We also send ready-made meals with enough portions for all members of the family. The new mother is visited by a Shifra U’Puah worker, who comes with a package containing diapers, a bottle (for those who use it), and copies of Shir HaMaalos to hang on the door and bassinet to guard the mother and baby.

“It’s not just the help that is important, but the way it is offered. The women who work for Shifra U’Puah know how important it is to show a pleasant smile and a real interest in the new mother’s well being. Many times, despite the joy a new baby brings, problems crop up. The Shifra U’Puah workers are good listeners, and eager to help out. The fact that a new mother knows that she isn’t alone, and that there is an organization ready to help and lend a hand, is calming and gives a mother new strength.”

Did it ever happen that in the course of your involvement with a family you realized that more serious help was needed?

“Definitely. I remember going on a house call and being shocked by the substandard living conditions we saw. We got the Vaad Kfar Chabad involved and were able to literally build them a house.”

On Chanuka 5739, N’shei Chabad representatives were called to Rabbi Chadakov’s room. The secretary repeated the Rebbe’s instruction that Shifra U’Puah is for everyone. Rabbi Chadakov said that their approach should be like that of Avrohom Avinu, who gave people a meal and only then asked them to thank Hashem.

Shifra U’Puah has also helped thousands of not yet observant women. This physical help has had a direct effect on their spiritual state. We heard more about this from various Shifra U’Puah activists around the country:

Mrs. Abramowitz of Kiryat Ata: “A few years ago I got a call with an urgent request from a nurse who works at a clinic. There was a young family in the area with a new mother who simply wasn’t managing. We were asked whether we could get involved.

“Naturally, we agreed. We called the house before Shabbos. The mother didn’t have the strength to prepare even the basics for Shabbos. We immediately got to work and cooked, baked, packed everything up, and sent it all to this family. We explained everything to the husband, who was waiting for us downstairs. When he saw all the packages we had brought, he was amazed. He was so moved that he wanted to personally meet the “angels of chesed.” That Shabbos, he visited the local Chabad shul for the first time in his life. He was enthralled, and little by little, the family moved towards a life of Torah and mitzvos. Today, their home is Chassidish, the oldest son learns in a Chabad yeshiva, and the other children are in Chabad mosdos.”

Mrs. B. Sossonkin of Metulla: “We give each new mother a card that says ‘May you merit to raise your baby to Torah, chuppa, and good deeds.’ We also send a Shir HaMaalos to protect mother and baby. Women have thanked us for the card and told us that because we cared, they decided to go to a shiur or take on a certain mitzva.”

Mrs. Penina Yisroel of Kfar Chabad operates from a different angle. In addition to providing assistance to families with newborn babies Mrs. Penina works on convincing women not to abort, ch’v. She is grateful to merit tremendous help from Above in her work. “I remember a woman who had been in a terrible car accident, and her doctors advised her to abort. She had severe back pains and pain along her spine, and she was worried about how the pregnancy would affect her health, which was not great at the time. We persuaded her not to abort, and surprisingly, not only did the pregnancy and birth not harm her, but her back pains subsided until they completely disappeared.”

How do you manage the financial burden?

Mrs. Rottenberg: “Hashem says ‘silver and gold are mine.’ We constantly see Hashem’s blessings. On many occasions we reached a point where we thought, ‘That’s it. From where will the help come?’ And that’s precisely when Hashem sends us donors, allowing us to carry on.”

Mrs. V. Akselrod of Atlit: “I heard about a new mother with young children who had twins. I realized we had to help out with the meals, so I asked a large factory in our area that produces ready-made meals whether they could help this family, and they agreed. Since then, we have a working relationship. They donate to us all their leftovers at the end of the week. This often totals hundreds of portions, which we pass on to new mothers.”

What do new mothers think about an organization founded just for them?

Mrs. Rottenberg: “I can’t begin to tell you about all the letters, phone calls, and thanks we get. It’s not only from the new mothers, but from the fathers, mothers, mothers-in-law, and other people who hear about our work and are excited by the idea.”

Mrs. A. Maatuf of Bareket: “It always warms my heart when I see how thrilled the new mothers are when we come. They say, “Really – you help everyone, not just Lubavitchers? Fantastic!” What a remarkable display of ahavas Yisroel!”

Perhaps the following story sums it all up. At one gathering, a mother related that when it was Parshas Sh’mos, her son heard his teacher tell about the midwives in Mitzrayim, named Shifra and Puah, who saved the Jewish babies. The boy called out in confusion, “How could they have lived back in Mitzrayim when Shifra U’Puah exists today? Just yesterday they called my mother to ask whether she needed a babysitter!”


The Story of Herschel Tzig

The following story illustrates the importance of helping new mothers, as it was revealed from above to the Baal Shem Tov (related in Seifer HaMaamarim 5709, Kuntres 64):

When the Baal Shem Tov was about twenty years of age, he and other hidden tzaddikim arrived in the city of Brody. On the third day there, he saw a simple porter walking along, bent under his load, whose head was encircled by a halo of light. The man’s clothes were tattered and worn.

When the people in the marketplace caught sight of him, they laughed at him and called out, “Herschel Tzig, trog gezund (Herschel Goatman, carry your load in peace).” The Baal Shem Tov inquired and was told that Herschel was a simple man, a widower for ten years. He had sent his two sons to study in yeshiva, and he earned his living as a porter, but all his earnings were used to sustain his four goats. People laughed at his great love for goat’s milk, knowing that he spent a considerable sum on goat feed while he lived in a hovel at the edge of the city.

The Baal Shem Tov asked that Heaven enlighten him with the secret behind Herschel Tzig’s radiance, which was like the rays emanating from the face of Moshe Rabbeinu. But his request was denied. He grieved over this and fasted for three days until finally his prayers were answered.

After davening Mincha on the third day of his fast, the Baal Shem Tov met Herschel Tzig. The Baal Shem Tov told Herschel that he was hungry, and asked for a drink of goat’s milk. Herschel rejoiced at the request and said he was willing to provide a cup of milk at no charge, and he took the Baal Shem Tov to his home, which was about an hour’s distance.

After drinking the milk and sleeping the night, Herschel told the Baal Shem Tov that he had lost his wife ten years ago. She had visited the sickly among the poor, as well as poor new mothers. “During the mourning period,” said Herschel, “my wife appeared to me in a dream and told me about the great reward she was given for the mitzva of visiting the sick and poor new mothers.”

“I had heard a lot from the maggidim [itinerant preachers],” she began, “about the tribulations awaiting us in the next world, but when I died they asked me my name and I answered, ‘Rochel Leah.’ Then they took me to the Heavenly court, where I met the souls of all the men, women, and children whom I had helped for 27 years when they were sick or had just given birth. These souls spoke on my behalf, and I was taken straight to Gan Eden. Now Herschel,” she concluded, “take my advice. Since here in Heaven they love those who help another Jew, and since you do not know Torah, get involved in healing the sick and helping new mothers, and try to ensure that no one knows about it.”

“Since that time,” said Herschel to the Baal Shem Tov, “I have purchased goats and I take good care of them. I bring their milk to sick people and new mothers, and with G-d’s help they are healed.

“Last night my wife came to me in a dream and said that if I meet a poor man tomorrow after Mincha who asks me for something, I should invite him home and give him goat’s milk, and tell him the secret, for through him I will be saved with eternal salvation.”

The Baal Shem Tov enlisted Herschel in his Chevra Kadisha, and one of the tzaddikim taught him Tanach, Mishna, and Gemara for a number of years. Herschel’s mind opened and he became elevated in sanctity and Chassidus. He became great in Torah, and with his prayers and segulos he healed hundreds and thousands of sick people.


“Their approach should be like that of Avrohom Avinu, who gave people a meal and only then asked them to thank Hashem.”






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