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Shemot Dvar Torah 2021 Bet Shalom Zoom 

01/08/2021 04:14:14 PM


Irene Stern Friedman

This Parsha exemplifies what it takes to be a hero or a leader. A true leader is not somebody who is constantly concerned about his or her own power but is someone who cares for those around them.

After Pharaoh’s decree that all Hebrew baby boys should be cast into the Nile, Miriam convinced her father Amram who had divorced his wife that he was acting wrongly since Pharaoh had only prevented Hebrew males from growing up while Amran’s divorce plan would prevent Hebrew girls from being born as well. Amram accepted his daughter's argument and remarried Yocheved, and the other Hebrew men remarried their wives. It was only after that that Moshe was born.

The midwives, Shifra and Puah were ordered by Pharaoh to murder all of the baby males on their birth stools. But, fearing G-d more than Pharaoh, these two defy the order. They cared for those around them.

Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Baby Moshe from the Nile. Without her, Moshe might not have lived and there may not have been an Exodus story.

When G-d calls us we must be ready to answer. When faced with challenges or moral dilemmas and told to do evil, we must refuse, and answer to a higher authority and do the right thing.

When Pharaoh’s daughter sees the basket holding a baby the Parsha tells us “She drew the basket towards herself and – vatiftach – she opened it – vatireihu et hayeled – she saw there was a child in it.” “Vehinei na’ar bocheh – Behold, it was a lad who was crying.” “Vatomer – she exclaimed – miyaldei ha’ivrim ze – this must be one of the Hebrew children.”

In one statement, Moshe is described as being a yeled” and a Na’ar.—a baby and a lad. When she saw him he was a child, when he cried it was the cry of a lad. Also, how did she know that this was one of the Hebrew children?

The Rebbe of Sochatchov explains as follows. When a baby cries, the cry is for itself. It’s hungry, it’s thirsty, wet, or in pain. Later, an older child develops empathy, through which the child’s cry can be for the suffering or pain of others.

Pharaoh’s daughter had noticed something quite extraordinary about baby Moses. His was the cry of a “Na’ar”– of a lad. He was in tune with the suffering of his people.

And therefore she knew – “miyaldei ha’ivrim ze”– this must be one of the Hebrew children because she was aware that this was a hallmark of the Jewish nation – the capacity always to feel the suffering of others.

Later on, Moshe became a shepherd, and he cared for every one of his sheep. At an older age, he had emerged from the palace of Pharaoh to seek his brethren when he saw a fellow Hebrew being struck by an Egyptian taskmaster. He was just about to be killed but Moshe saved his life. When he went to a well in Midyan – he stood up for the rights of total strangers – the seven daughters of Jethro.

Rabbi Sacks says: Pharaoh’s daughter is one of the most unexpected heroes of the Bible. Without her, Moses might not have lived. Yet she was not an Israelite. She had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by her courage. Yet she seems to have had no doubt, experienced no reservations, made no hesitation.

Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile, while her maids walked along the Nile’s edge. She saw the box in the reeds and sent her slave-girl to fetch it. Opening it, she saw the boy. The child began to cry, and she had pity on it. 

Note the sequence. First, she sees that it is a child and has pity on it, a natural, human, compassionate reaction. Only then does it dawn on her who the child must be. She remembers her father’s decree against the Hebrews. To save the baby would mean disobeying the royal command. That would be serious enough for an ordinary Egyptian; doubly so for a member of the royal family.

More than that, she is not alone when the event happens. Her maids are with her. She must face the risk that one of them, perhaps after an argument, or even just to gossip, will tell someone. Yet she does not shift her ground. She has the courage of her compassion.

We know that Miriam watches and says to Pharoah’s daughter “Shall I go and call a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?”  She proposes a plan brilliant in its simplicity. If the real mother is able to keep the child in her home to nurse him, the danger is less. Pharoah’s daughter will not have to explain to the court how this infant has suddenly appeared. Yocheved can say that she is only his wet nurse. Miriam’s ingenuity is matched by Pharaoh’s daughter’s instant understanding and consent.

Then comes the final surprise: When the child matured, his mother Yocheved brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter. She adopted him as her own son and named him Moses. “I bore him from the water,” she said.  Pharaoh’s daughter did not simply have a moment’s compassion. She has not forgotten the child. Not only does she remain committed to his welfare; she adopts the riskiest of strategies. She will adopt him and bring him up as her own son. This is courage of a high order.

 In the Torah, it is parents who give a child its name, and in the case of a special individual, G-d Himself. We have already encountered one adoptive name – Tzafenat Pa’neah – the name by which Joseph was known in Egypt; yet Joseph remains Joseph. How surpassingly strange that the hero of Exodus, should not be known by whatever name Amram and Yocheved have used thus far, but the one given to him by his adoptive mother, Pharoah’s daughter.

Although Moses had many names, the only one by which he is known in the whole Torah is the one given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh. We are taught that even the Holy One, blessed be He, did not call him by any other name.” 

Who exactly was Pharaoh’s daughter? The First Book of Chronicles mentions a daughter of Pharaoh, named Batya and it was she the sages identified as the woman who saved Moses. Batya means “the daughter of G-d.” From this, the sages drew one of their most striking lessons: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her: ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.’” They added that she was one of the few people who were so righteous that they entered paradise in their lifetime.

 Rabbi Sacks was moved by that encounter on the banks of the Nile between an Egyptian princess and Moses’ sister Miriam. The contrast between them – in terms of age, culture, status, and power – could not be greater. Yet their deep humanity bridged all the differences. May they inspire us.

Moses grew up as a prince of Egypt. As a young man, he came to understand the implications of his true identity. “Growing up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people”

He intervenes – he acts: the mark of a true leader. We see him intervene three times, twice in Egypt, once in Midian, to rescue victims of violence. 

Tziporah, Moses’ wife is the daughter of a Midianite priest. Yet it was she who saved Moses’ life by performing a circumcision on their son. She is a determined woman who, at a crucial moment, had a better sense than Moses himself of what G-d required.

The Parsha of Shemot is about the initiation into leadership of one remarkable man, Moses, and about six extraordinary women.

Yocheved, Miriam, Shifra, Puah, Tziporah, and Batya were leaders not because of any official position they held. They were leaders because they had courage and conscience. They refused to be intimidated by power or defeated by circumstance. Their courage is still a source of inspiration today.

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782