Shemot 5776

Israel’s descent into slavery in Egypt was foretold to Abraham, but Egypt’s punishment wasn’t: they were punished for their own crimes. Pharaoh’s hate-speech has been echoed by racist demagogues throughout time: “The people of Israel are too numerous. Let us be wise, lest they multiply and join our enemies in times of war.” More exceptional than nationalist hatred, however, is unrequited compassion. Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moses because her sense of justice was stronger than her father’s “wisdom”. Legends abound telling how she was later rewarded, but the plain text gives a more challenging narrative: she received absolutely nothing for doing the right thing. Morality is harsh. And yet, her compassion echoes in Moses’ life and in his Torah until today.




[Inspired by: Exodus 1; Genesis 15:14 and the commentaries of Ramban and Radak there; Rabbi Yaakov Nagan on the ‘missing names‘ in Shemot; and ‘Pharaoh’s Daughter with Her Attendants and Moses in the Reed Basket‘ by Jan de Bray, which is special in that he doesn’t show her as happy, as does Hogarth, for example. For midrashim on Bitya, Pharaoh’s daughter, see here.]





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