Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Who Are Your Parents?

In Exodus on January 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm
English: Pharaoh's Daughter Has Moses Brought ...

Pharaoh's Daughter Has Moses Brought to Her, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

On my morning walk
I like to go to the park
with my dog, a treat.

Neighbors come, walking
dogs and children, laugh and play
fills the air, the world.

How sweet it is.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

What does this passage teach?

And the maiden went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her: ‘Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exodus 2.8-11

Moses’ mother is called by Pharoah’s daughter to nurse him.  After the child grows up, he is presented to Pharoah’s daughter, who makes him her son.  So, who is Moses’ mother?

Yochobed is Moses’ biological mother.  This is established later in chronicle (Exodus 6.20).  The plain meaning of she nursed it, and the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharoah’s daughter, seems to me to mean Yochobed saw to the physical aspects of Moses’ upbringing, until it was time for him to be adopted into Pharoah’s daughter’s household.  Moses was raised as an Egyptian from that point on.

Next, the text says and it came to pass…that he went out unto his brethren.  The plain meaning of this text, as I said last year, seems to be “Moses recognized the Hebrews.”  If Moses was raised as an Egyptian, as the previous thought unit implies, how can he recognize Hebrews as his brethren?

It seems unreasonable to assume that Yochobed could refrain from imparting to Moses his origins, though she certainly had ample motivations to do so.  Pharoah’s decree is one.  Her livelihood is another.  Pharoah’s daughter charges her to take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.  The parsha has already established Yochobed’s predilection for going against the rank and file, however.  In addition, she being called to be Moses’ wet nurse is a total setup:  the maiden is his sister (v.7).

By the same token, could Pharoah’s daughter refrain from teaching Moses the ways and customs of her household once he became her son?  Pharoah’s daughter was Egyptian.  Is there any reason why Pharoah’s daughter would not raise Moses as an Egyptian following his adoption?  Indeed, Moses is also an Egyptian (Exodus 2.19).

So two women, Yochobed and Pharoah’s daughter, shared in Moses’ parenting.  Does the text then suppose that Moses was raised as a Hebrew or as an Egyptian? When the text says and the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son who does the text actually mean?  Yochobed?  Or Pharoah’s daughter?  Or both?

This reminds me of my mother, who taught in the New York school system for many many years.  She once told me, every so often, some child or other would walk up to her and look up at her with those big wide eyes they have, and say, “mommy”?  My mother and these children’s parents came from very different places, yet the children were raised by both.

Rabbi Binyomin Adler says on his blog that the gemara says Pharoah’s daughter converted to Judaism.  The Torah does not record this fantastic event.  Rabbi Adler’s words,

The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah2:22) likens Moshe to a deer. Just like a deer appears and disappears, so too Moshe appeared to the Jewish People and then he disappeared. In essence, the entire redemption of the Jewish People until the last moments was shrouded in mystery. The redemption commenced when Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moshe from drowning in the river. Her conversion and her subsequent life were concealed because the entire redemption process was shrouded in mystery.

I’m not sure I buy the full implications of this.  It fits, but I ask:  should we celebrate the fact that a convert to Judaism saved a Hebrew child, or that someone of another tradition, against the law of their land, saved a Hebrew child?  Which is the greater miracle:  the contemporary Jewish convert or the Righteous Christian of World War II?  By naming the child Moses, because I drew him out of the water, did Pharoah’s daughter cast her lot in with the Israelites in fact, and is “in fact” more important than “in faith”?  Is her fate then shrouded in ethereal mystery?  Or is it tied up with the physical experience at Sinai, like the rest of us?  Did she go there with her adopted son?

Did the Egyptians as a people cast their lot in with the Israelites already?

…and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Say unto thy brethren: This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye: take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Also regard not your stuff; for the good things of all the land of Egypt are yours.’ And the sons of Israel did so.

Genesis 45.16-21

Was Pharoah’s daughter, in fact, a prophet?

The notion of Pharoah’s daughter converting to Judaism, or what we should call the ancient Hebrew equivalent, reinforces the idea that Moses recognize his brethren to be the Hebrews.  But, if Pharoah’s daughter did not convert, we’re left with a Hebrew child raised at once Hebrew and Egyptian.  What does this teach?

When Moses went out unto his brethren, did he go out to the Hebrews and find Egyptians?  Or did he go out to the Egyptians and find Hebrews?  When the text says, and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren, who is one of his brethren?  Is it the Hebrew?  Or the Egyptian?

Are our physical parents our only parents?

For all our differences, are we in fact one family?

Joyous Shabbos Peace to You!

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  1. Interesting article… Thank you for the post, as it carries an important message. I’d like to know which translation you use for your Torah quotations? Translation is important, as it alters the meaning of the text and message being conveyed, ever so slightly, but enough when it comes to Torah study.

    You ask: “When Moses went out unto his brethren, did he go out to the Hebrews and find Egyptians? Or did he go out to the Egyptians and find Hebrews? When the text says, and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren, who is one of his brethren? Is it the Hebrew? Or the Egyptian?” While I understand your larger point of this as more of a rhetorical question to ponder, grammatically speaking, I would say (as the translation stands now) that “his brethren” is referring to the “Hebrew.” It is interesting to note that my Artscroll Stone Edition makes a point of commenting that he is in fact referring to the Jews as his brethren and identifying with them in this instance. Meanwhile, the commentary suggests that (in Exodus 2.19) Moses is not allowed to be buried in Eretz Yisrael preciously because he is outwardly identified (and apparently identifies himself) as an Egyptian in that specific verse (Exodus 2.19). Nevertheless, it doesn’t really matter how it sounds or seems in the English translation, one would have to look more in-depth at the Hebrew to get a more precise answer.

    Overall, from this post (without scrutinizing the grammatical nuances of Torah and the pitfalls of translation) we understand that Moses is at once brethren of both the Hebrews and the Egyptians; we understand that we are all brethren, as you so aptly put it: “one family.”

    Wonderful D’var Torah. Yasher Koach to you.

  2. Hi Lexah!!! Good to hear from you!

    I use a variety of translations. I use a combination of new and old JPS, and The Living Torah by Aryeh Kaplan, but I’m working on my Hebrew skill from a wonderful linear translation that I’d be happy to recommend if you’re interested.

    I like what you’re saying here. When the Hebrew text says “vayar eesh mitzra, machem eesh eevri mei-echav” I agree with you. Hebrew is a reflexive language, so subsequent articles of a phrase tend to refer to the more immediate subject, though the commentators play harry with this all the time. But to your point, eevri is “Hebrew.” Mei-echav is “from brethren,” mem being a prefix for from and echav being brethren, though the mem is a bit perplexing to me because of the vowel, which is a chayray (two horizontal dots) and not a sheva (two vertical dots). If you look for “from Egypt” in your Artscroll or Siddur, I guarantee you’ll find mi mitzrayim in the Hebrew, which is nearly always rendered with the sheva. Maybe its a tense issue. Anyway, you’re certainly correct here. The brethren refers to the Hebrew.

    But, in the preceding clause of the same verse, the text says (old JPS) “when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens.” “Vayigdal Moshe vayitzei el-echav vyar bisivlotam.” “And grown up Moses went upon brethren, and saw their burdens,” my (amateur) translation. Brethren (echav) refers to Moses here, not the Hebrew. El is “upon” or “unto”. You can argue that the text meant the Hebrews, that the succeeding clause serves clarification on the preceding one. You can also argue that the succeeding clause makes clear that Moses identified with the Hebrew as brethren though being raised as an Egyptian, making tagging the Egyptian as brethren unnecessary here (though Torah does this elsewhere to great effect). You can argue that the Hebrew was Moses brethren in suffering. You can also argue that Moses went out to see the Egyptian taskmasters with their burdens (the Hebrews) and the Hebrews with their burdens (the Egyptian taskmasters). See what I mean?

    You’re absolutely right that translation is important, because words change meaning. More to the point, the translation is subject to what the translator wants to accomplish, and more subject to what readers and commentators want to accomplish. See http://thetalmidrebbe.com/2012/01/16/me-and-you/ , or evolution and abortion. See Sforno on Judah and Tamar, who says paraphrased “Tamar was righteous because she wanted to make babies, like all women should.” No joke! Written words, translated or not, are half the battle. The question is, what do you want to accomplish?

    • Awesome! Thank you for that much needed Hebrew lesson. I think it would serve you well if you were interested in including small lessons such as this into your posts–extremely informative. Although, you do know your reader base better than I do. Thank you for the recommendations; although, I did not see a link for the “evolution and abortion” suggestion. Definitely agree with you on translation.

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