Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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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.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Parshat Shemot

Moshe – Natural Born Leader

The birth of Moshe is surrounded by a strange case of anonymity. "A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi" (Shemot 2:1). We later discover that these two people were called Amram and Yocheved. So too Moshe, the child they have, is not named until he "grew up" (ibid 10). Miriam, "his sister" (ibid 4) is not named and neither is Pharoah's daughter.

So too, when the characters re-appear in this chapter, they remain anonymous even though their descriptions change: Miriam becomes the "maiden" (ibid 8) and Yocheved is described as the "child's mother" (ibid 8) and later again as "the woman" (9).

We can understand the change in description for both Miriam and Yocheved. They are given these descriptions when facing Pharaoh's daughter. She does not suspect that they are related and that this occurrence was well planned by both mother and daughter. Indeed, had she suspected this, she would have called for a different woman to nurse the child. This is why she offers to pay Yocheved for nursing the child. As Pharoh's daughter she could have taken a Hebew slave at no cost, however, she did not want there to be any doubt that the child is now hers'.

Nevertheless, why are all the characters shrouded in anonymity? What message is the Torah trying to teach?

We know that this child grew up to be Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our teacher), the lawgiver whose close encounters with God would never be reproduced by anyone.

Yet, in his birth and early childhood, his basic survival was at stake. He did not have special powers that he could survive Pharaoh's decree: "Every son who is born you shall cast into the Nile" (ibid 1:22). Had Moshe been caught he would have been killed. Furthermore, once in the Nile, he was helpless and needed a human being, Pharaoh's daughter, to save him. Additionally, he then needed a woman to nurse him.

One of the basic messages that Moshe came to teach was that: "God created man in His image" (Bereshit 1:27), not just Pharaoh's. Every single person was special and equal: There are no supernatural people. Moshe, the greatest human ever, was conceived naturally, by regular people; he grew and was nurtured naturally. His parents were not gods, had Pharaoh's daughter not discovered him he would have died and had there been no one to nurse him, again he would have died from malnutrition.

The Torah deliberately describes the episode in anonymity to show that they were all regular people, all regular humans. Anyone can rise to be great. You do not need a privileged and even a supernatural birth.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Shemot, entitled: "The Abandonment of Moshe" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Shemot, entitled: "The Ark and the Princess" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Shemot, entitled: "Moshe - Assimilated Jew" appears at

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