Theme of Water in Parshat Shemot

Shemot: Batya, Miriam, Baby Moshe
Parshat Shemot: Batya, Miriam, and Baby Moshe

The people of Israel are down in Egypt. A new Pharaoh comes along. He tells the midwives to kill the baby boys. Yocheved puts her baby son in a tevah in the river. Miriam watches from a distance. The daughter of Pharaoh, Batya, comes along to take care of the baby. Batya gets Yocheved to nurse the baby.

What is the importance of water?

Water is the reason Egypt is a super power: they have the Nile. Israel needs rain, creating a situation in which we need to rely on God. We need to pray for rain. This helps one build a relationship with God. Learn more from Rabbi Leibtag.

Noah vs. Moshe

What are the parallels to Noah? Both saved by a tevah. Both have forty days and forty nights. When Gods tells Noah he’s going to continue the world through him, Noah responds: OK, sure. Moshe, however, says “No.” If you destroy the people of Israel, then erase me from your book.

According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, Moshe repairs the flaw of Noah. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev teaches “Moshe is the tikkun (repair) for the soul of Noah” (Keddushat Levi, Noach). This idea is based on the Ari z”l in Sha’ar Hagilgulim who says that Moshe is a gilgul, a reincarnation of Noah.

Noah is told to build a tevah: “Make yourself an ark – tevah” (Bereishit 6:14).
Moshe is saved in a tevah: “She took a papyrus box – tevah.”

Noah is saved from the great waters of the flood.
Moshe’s name means to be drawn from the water: “Because from the water he was drawn” (Shemot 2:10). In a sense, both Noah and Moshe are “drawn from the water”.

Of Noah during the flood: “It would continue to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights” (Bereishit 7:12).
Of Moshe: “Moshe remained there with God for 40 days and 40 nights” (Shemot 34:28).

Noah does not respond nor plead on behalf of his generation, but merely carries out God’s command. “And Noah did all that God had commanded him” (Bereishit 6:22).

Moshe displays care and sympathy. We are familiar with these characteristics from Parshat Shemot when we learn that Moshe cannot sit by idly by when witnessing the suffering of others. He slays the Egyptian and saves Yitro’s daughters.

The tikkun of Noah is that Moshe is willing to suffer annihilation rather then continue without Bnei Yisrael. In complete empathy and identification with Bnei Yisrael, he ties his fate to theirs by intentionally sinning by breaking the tablets.
Source: Batya Hefter, Parshat Hashavua, Shemot, Nov 19, 2016

Moshe and the Nile

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֱמֹר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן קַח מַטְּךָ וּנְטֵה-יָדְךָ עַל-מֵימֵי מִצְרַיִם עַל-נַהֲרֹתָם עַל-יְאֹרֵיהֶם וְעַל-אַגְמֵיהֶם
(שְׁמוֹת 7:19)
Rashi explains that Moshe was saved by the Nile, so Aharon instead does the hitting of the water for the plague of dam – blood. Importance of being grateful – even to an inanimate object like a river.

More Artwork!

For those who come for the artwork, here is a pen and ink version of Miriam, Batya, and Moshe:

Miriam, Batya, baby Moshe

Parsha Questions

The Bloody Nile, Plague No. 1
The Bloody Nile, Plague No. 1

On Friday, I asked:

  • Why mention Elisheva’s brother? (and who is Elisheva…)
  • Why the Nile? Why was the first plague on the Nile?

1) Elisheva, who married Aaron the brother of Moses, was the brother of Nachshon Ben Aminadav. Why mention her brother? Because when you get married, you should check out your future wife’s brother (according to Rashi). So my husband said to my sons, he checked out my brother before marrying me, that’s how he knew he would have sons who love computer games. To which my middle son said, “And chess, too!”

2) Nile:
Raizy came up with a good answer:

Why was the first plague on the Nile? It was mida k’neged mida (direct retribution). The Egyptians threw newborn Jewish boys into the Nile, so now the Nile is being used to punish them in return.

Her second answer is similar to the one Rashi gives in 7:17 — the Egyptians worshiped the Nile, as the Egyptians were dependent on the rise of the Nile to water the land, as rain did not fall in Egypt. So God struck their deity.

Raizy adds: “So turning the holy water of the Nile into blood demonstrated that the God of Israel is more powerful than the gods and sacred places of Egypt. It was meant to instill fear and awe.”

Another answer is found in the Rashi of 8:17 with an aggadic story: God came against the Egyptians following the tactics of the wars of kings, in the order of measures a kingdom takes to when it lays siege to a city. At first it ruins the city’s springs of water (bloody Nile, as shown in the watercolor above). Afterwards the besieging forces sound and blow shofars at the inhabitants of the besieged city to scare them and confuse them. By the same token, the frogs croak and make noise, etc., as it says in Midrash Rabbi Tanchuma. The shofar blasts are followed by hails of arrows, comparable to lice. Then foreign mercenaries are sent in, like the mixture of wild beasts. The pestilence corresponds to a mass seizure of captives. This is followed by an attempt to burn the enemy out — the boils. The hail is like a bombardment of catapult stones. Next comes an attack by a large army (locusts). If the enemy does not surrender, they are held in prison (darkness). If the enemy is still not vanquished, its leaders are executed — the killing of the firstborn.

• • •

Here’s one more quicky that I learned from my son: how can you remember how many plagues are in Parshat Vaera and how many are in Bo? (hint: if you know gematria, that helps. Gematria is adding Hebrew letters as if they are numbers. So aleph is one, beit is two, and so on).

A reminder: just as we empty drops of wine on Passover because we are not allowed to rejoice over the death of the Egyptians in the sea, we are not allowed to enjoy the suffering of our enemies, even if they have created pain for us.

Shemot: Best Parsha in the Universe!

Baby Moses
“Shemot is the best parsha in the universe!” declares my daughter. And no wonder…it’s action-packed, with women heroes, defiance of a totalitarian dictator, and the Children of Israel enslaved, but not for long. For her, the best part is how little Moshe is taken from the water by the daughter of Pharaoh. Miriam is standing nearby, and the daughter of Pharaoh’s servants are close by as well. Miriam will soon get her mother, Yocheved, to come nurse her own baby. See my daughter’s rendition of this event by clicking on the thumbnail.

When Moshe is born, Yocheved sees that he is “good”, ‘ki tov’. Aren’t all little babies good? Rashi explains that when he was born, the whole house filled with light. Rashi is referring to a midrash that it was supernatural sign, and therefore she hid him. He is alluding to the light from Breishit, where it also says ‘ki tov’, and it was good.

In his book Exploring Exodus Nahum Sarna points out the language here is not only an echo of Breishit, but later, when Yocheved places Moshe in a basket, it is called a ‘tevah’, echoing the language of parshat Noah.

These two literary allusions tie the book of Shemot (Exodus) back to the book of Breishit (Genesis). Just as God created the World, so He is the one who saves Moshe and will take the Children of Israel out of Egypt.

Sarna writes further about the word ‘suf’:

The container that held the infant Moses was placed among the “reeds”, in Hebrew suf, a term borrowed from the Egyptian for “papyrus/reed thicket.” The idea of the mother was to make sure that the infant would not be carried downstream. It may well be that the rare word suf has been selected in the present text because it is allusive, prefiguring Israel’s deliverance at Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds).

And for your listening pleasure, be sure to check out Ka Ribon by Pharaoh’s Daughter.