Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

My Photo
Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Parshat Shemot

The Ark and the Princess

There are two things that have always bothered me about this week's parsha. Firstly, what on earth was Moshe's mother, Yocheved, thinking about when she put him into the ark into a crocodile infested Nile? Was that the best rescue plan she could come up with? Secondly, Pharaoh is on a crusade to kill all newborn Hebrew male children, how come he allows his own daughter to adopt one and to raise him in his palace as a prince of Egypt? Pharaoh's daughter recognized him as a Hebrew; surely, Pharaoh would have too!!

To answer to these questions we need to look at Pharaoh's plan against Israel.

Pharaoh has a major concern: "lest they increase, and … depart from the land" (Shemot 1:10).

Note from this source that Pharaoh is not interested in the physical destruction of Israel. On the contrary, he sees them as an important resource. He is worried that they will become too powerful for him to stop them from leaving Egypt. In order to prevent their departure, he devises a plan to restrict their growth allowing him to maintain his control over them.

His first plan; to burden Israel with backbreaking hard labor fails because "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied" (ibid 12). So he moves onto Phase 2; murder of newly born males by the midwives. The mothers of the children would have assumed that they were still born. However, this plan also fails as the "midwives feared God" (ibid 17) and refused to cooperate.

So Pharaoh moves onto Phase 3 ; again murder of all new born males, but this time there was to be no secret dirty work. The mothers themselves were required to throw their new born sons into the river (ibid 22).

It is with this decree in mind that Yocheved acted in the way that she did. She succeeded in hiding her son for three months, but after three months "she could no longer hide him" (ibid 2:3). She had been caught and was required to execute the evil decree. However, instead of casting him into the river, Yocheved places him into it in a box in the river and rather than allowing him to float into oblivion, she placed him "in the reeds by the river's bank" (ibid). The ark did not move but remained in its place while "his sister stood from a distance, to find out what would happen to him" (ibid 4). Thereby, Yocheved obeyed the decree, but in such a way that it left hope for her son's survival.

Furthermore, the area she placed him could not have been crocodile infested, as Pharaoh's daughter would not have been bathing there. Who knows, perhaps she even spent he first three months selecting that spot. In the Holocaust many Jewish parents gave up their children for adoption to Christian families. Maybe she was hoping that an aristocratic Egyptian, possibly even Pharaoh's daughter, would take him.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that whenever the Bible recalls the horrors of Egypt, it surprisingly never mentions this decree. We also have no information as to how long this decree was in place and to how faithfully it was observed. It is very possible that this phase in Pharaoh's plan failed just like the previous phases failed. In short, the Egyptian inspectors may have turned a blind eye to a creative fulfillment of the decree.

With this in light and with the knowledge that Pharaoh's plan was not for the elimination of Israel but for its restricted growth, Pharaoh may not have been too concerned about the survival of one child, especially with one that was to be raised as an Egyptian.

Pharaoh's plan was to ensure that Israel survived and remained under his dominion in Egypt. Of course, this plan also failed.

Last years' Sedra Short on Parshat Shemot, entitled: " Moshe - Assimilated Jew" appears at


Post a Comment

<< Home