Shemos - G-d's First Teacher
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Last week's Rabbi's Notebook ended with the following question: Included in
Yakov's final blessings to his sons were references to the future births of
various great personalities. During the blessing that Yakov gave Menashe
and Ephraim, the Medresh Tanchumah (Rashi 48:17) explained Ephraim's
importance as the progenitor of Yehoshua. At the same time Yakov revealed
that Menashe would be the progenitor of Gideon. In the blessing for Yehudah
Yakov revealed that King David (and therefore Mashiach) would be among his
descendents. (Rashi, 49:10) When Yakov blessed Dan he revealed the era of
Shimshon (Samson) the great and mighty Shofet - judge. However,
conspicuously missing from the blessings was any reference to the single
most important person in our history as well as the history of the world -
Moshe Rabbeinu! Why wasn't there a prophetic reference concerning the birth
In this week's Parsha there is another glaring omission. (2:1-10) "...A man
from Layvie marries a woman from Layvie... The woman became pregnant and
she gave birth to a son... They saw that he was good... They hid him...
They placed the child in the basket... His sister stood from the
distance... What would happen to him... The daughter of Pharaoh went to
bathe... They saw the child was crying... She said he must be a Jewish
child... His sister said to Pharaoh's daughter... A Jewish nursemaid for
the child... She called the mother of the child... Take the child and nurse
him... The woman took the child and nursed him... The child grew and was
brought to Pharaoh's daughter... She called him Moshe..."
Why all the mystery? Why didn't the Torah identify who were the man and
woman from Layvie? Why didn't the Torah tell us the sister's name? How
about Pharaoh's daughter? Why not reveal her name? Why didn't the Torah
record Moshe's real name (Tuvia), the name his parents gave him at his
Bris? More so, in next week's Parsha, (6:14-29) after Moshe confronted
Pharaoh for the first time, the Torah identified all the key players
involved in Moshe's birth except Pharaoh's daughter. If the Torah was going
to tell us their names anyway, why wait till then? Why not tell us their
names from the start?
The Rambam in the Laws Governing the Study of Torah (3:1) recorded the
imagery of the Three Crowns.
"There were three crowns presented to the Jewish nation. a) The crown of
Torah. b) The crown of Priesthood. c) The crown of Royalty. Aharon merited
the crown of Priesthood. David merited the crown of Royalty. However,
anyone who wishes can merit the crown of Torah."
Torah is not the exclusive right of leadership. Torah is "Morasha Kehillas
Yakov - the inheritance of the congregation of Yakov" - it belongs to the
entire Jewish people. The Medresh records the piercing story of the great
Talmudic scholar Yanai and his encounter with a well-dressed stranger.
Yanai was a wealthy man who sought to invite scholars to eat at his table.
One day he invited a stranger who appeared, by virtue of his clothing and
bearing, to be a Torah scholar. In the course of the meal it became
embarrassingly obvious that the dignified looking stranger was completely
uneducated. Yanai was extremely upset that the stranger had duped him. When
the meal was over, Yanai expressed his disappointment in having invited an
uneducated man to eat at his table. The stranger responded, "The verse says
that Torah is the inheritance of Yakov, not the exclusive inheritance of
Yanai! It is your obligation to teach me!"
Yakov's blessings last week at the end of Sefer Bereishis were intended to
identify and encourage the individual strengths of the "Tribes / Brothers."
At the same time, he identified some of the key historic personalities that
would eventually emerge to lead the Jewish nation. I am sure that a
comprehensive study of those personalities, Yehoshua, Gideon, Mashiach, and
Shimshon would reveal a common denominator unique to their being grouped
together. However, Moshe was not included among them. Yakov did not reveal
the impending birth of Moshe, the single most important person in history.
Considering the history of jealousy and conflict leading to the sale of
Yoseph, we might have thought that Yakov would have been exceedingly
careful not to repeat the same negative dynamic. Yet, he pointedly placed
Ephraim before his older brother Menashe. On the one hand, the intervening
years, (22 + 17 = 39) may have given the brothers time to reflect and
mature. However, considering the pain and suffering that they had all
endured as a result of past jealousies, and considering he was about to die
and would not be there to intervene, we might have expected Yakov to be
As I explained in last week's Rabbi's Notebook, Yakov gave his blessings as
Yisroel, not Yakov. He spoke as the progenitor of a nation, not just the
dying patriarch of a family. As such, Yakov could not afford to be
"sensitive" at the expense of honesty. He was speaking as a prophet and the
message was not his to alter or modify. More so than that, the brothers
were gathered as individual components of a whole. Each one had to hear who
and what the others were and would be so that they could support each other
for the sake of the whole. They too could no longer afford to engage in
pettiness, no matter how seemingly important. They too were no longer just
the sons of Yakov; they had become the Bnai Yisroel.
As a nation, our raison d' e'tre is to learn Torah and teach Torah.
Everyone, regardless of individual talents and characteristics, share the
responsibility for Torah. It should be the goal of marriages and the focus
of parenting. It is the single most important characteristic and obligation
differentiating us from the other nations. As we say in the morning Brachos
(blessings), "He chose us from among the other nations and gave us His
It is the nation's collective responsibility for studying and teaching
Torah that explains why Yakov did not foretell the birth of Moshe. Each of
the personalities revealed were identified for their uniqueness as role
models for the future of the entire with their tribe and accepted by the
rest of the nation as leader and savior.
Yehoshua was revealed because he would be the one to lead the nation across
the Yarden. He also represented the next stage in the transmission of Torah
from Moshe to the rest of history. It showed that Torah was not exclusive
to Moshe. True, he brought it down from heaven, but it truly was "Morasha
Kehillas Yakov - the inheritance of the congregation of Yakov." Therefore,
it was appropriate that Ephraim and his tribe receive "credit" for his birth.
Gideon was one of the Shoftim - Judges who was not a great Torah scholar.
As such, his leadership represented the potential for everyone in the
nation to lead in a time of emergency, so long as they are 100% committed
to the law of G-d as taught by those who know and understand Him best - the
Rabbis. Therefore, it was appropriate that Menashe and his tribe be given
"credit" for his birth.
Shimshon was exclusive among the Judges by virtue of the manner of his
birth, style of leadership, and prodigious strength. In all, Shimshon was
the quintessential model of G-d revealing His providence through the
seemingly natural talents of humans. It wasn't Samson's strength that saved
his generation from the Plishtim. It was G-d. It is not the brilliance of a
given leader at a given time in history that guarantees survival and
success for the Jewish people. It is the divine placement of a leader with
divinely ordained talents who acknowledges the origins and obligations of
his or her uniqueness that guarantees survival and success. Therefore, it
was appropriate that Dan and his tribe be given "credit" for his birth.
King David and Mashiach were obvious choices for Yakov to reveal because
they represent the ultimate redemption of both the nation and the
world. Therefore, it was appropriate that Yehudah and his tribe be given
"credit" for his birth.
However, in relation to the origins of Torah, meaning the birth of Moshe,
no one Tribe can or should claim credit. Torah is divine and eternal. Torah
did not emanate from within the nation or from within any single tribe.
Torah came from outside the mortal framework of history and humanity. It
was offered, given, granted, presented, and delivered, by G-d to the Jewish
people and the world through the designated office of Moshe. Therefore,
Torah does not belong to anyone and it therefore belongs to everyone. So
long as we adhere to G-d's rules and regulations for studying His Torah
anyone can take possession of it. So long as we respect the teachers G-d
chose to teach His Torah and accept their exclusive right to interpret and
apply His Torah, Torah can belong to anyone and everyone.
G-d's method for revealing His intentions for the universe and humanity was
through teachers. Torah was not automatically coded into our working
memories (in contrast with Angels and dented upper lips). He wanted Torah
to be taught, learned, and then taught to others. Therefore, he needed a
First-Teacher to start the process. That person had to embody the entire
nation. He could not be the exclusive right of any one tribe. That person
was Moshe Rabbeinu. Therefore, when we are first introduced to Moshe his
direct familial associations are shrouded in mystery. Instead of
identifying Amram, Yocheved, and Miriam as Moshe's family, the Torah used
the pronouns, man, woman, sister, mother, and child. Moshe's original name,
Tuvia (among others), was not recorded because it was not important for the
man who would be G-d's First-Teacher. The name Tuvia was too personal, too
private; it had nothing to do with the nation as a whole. Therefore, it had
no place in the story of Moshe Rabbeinu, the teacher of the entire nation.
Likewise, Pharaoh's daughter was just another player in the emergence of
G-d's First-Teacher. She too is presented in an impersonal manner, shrouded
The Zohar says that Moshe, in appearance, was identical to Adam Harishon -
the first human. Moshe was not just anyone. Moshe represented the
quintessential human. Moshe represented the capacity of the human creature
to attain divinity and become "In G-d's image." Moshe was the embodiment of
the best humanity could offer and the most humanity could attain.
Therefore, G-d made him look like the very first human. He appeared as the
human should appear, in the form and image of his Creator. He appeared as
the universal human, with universal responsibilities, and belonging equally
to every single tribe.
Later, in next week's Parsha, after Moshe had assumed the role of savior,
the Torah recorded his lineage. However, at that specific juncture the
Torah was not specifying Moshe's lineage for the sake of Moshe or his
lineage. Just the opposite! The Torah was recording G-d's search within the
nation for the one person who would be G-d's First Teacher. It started with
Reuven and advanced from brother to brother seeking the Redeemer. As it
located the specific tribe it then made its way from son to son until
locating Moshe. (The importance of the "search" had more to do with
spanning the gap between Moshe and Mashiach (see Sefer Haparshios) than
identifying Moshe's personal Yichus.)
Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh and Moshe's adopted mother is not identified
at all. The Maharal in his commentary on the Torah offers an insight into
the story of Moshe's birth that can help.
On the day of Moshe's expected birth (remember, he was born 3 months early)
Pharaoh issued the decree, "Every male child is to be thrown into the
river." The court astrologers had forewarned Pharaoh that the eventual
savior of the Jews would be born that day. They also saw that he would
eventually be destroyed through water. (The incident of hitting the rock.)
However, they could not determine whether the child would be Jewish or
Egyptian. Therefore, Pharaoh decreed that on that fateful day all male
children Jewish and Egyptian born were to be drowned! (See Rashi, 1:22) The
Maharal wondered why the astrologers were not able to determine if Moshe
was Jewish or Egyptian? He explains that the day of Moshe's expected birth
was the day he would be put into the river and be found by Pharaoh's
daughter. Therefore, as far as the astrologers could ascertain, he was
Jewish and Egyptian - Jewish by virtue of his birth and Egyptian by virtue
of his adoption. Therefore, rather than stating Moshe's genetic or adoptive
ancestry his birth remains in generic obscurity, including not naming his
In Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles), the Egyptian princess is identified as
Basya, and she is called the mother of Yered (the name given to him by
Miriam.) However, in the Torah she remains generically, "the daughter of
Pharaoh." At the time that Basya found Moshe floating in the Nile, the
focus was the events surrounding the birth of G-d's First-Teacher.
Therefore, neither Basya nor any of the others are identified by name. At
the beginning of next week's Parsha, the record of Moshe's ancestry was a
search from within the nation and Basya was not a part of the nation.
However, in the extended chronicles of the Torah, in Divrei Hayamim, Basya
receives her due recognition as Moshe's adopted-mother.
The Maharal adds one further lesson. He points out that the astrologers
were unable to identify Moshe's nation of origin because Basya had adopted
him. However, he was 100% Jewish! Why did his adoption confuse the
astrologers? The Maharal says, from here we learn that "if you raise an
orphan in your home it is considered as if you gave birth to him. (Megilah
13a) As far as the heavens were concerned Moshe was the true child of
Basya! Furthermore, we can see the degree of G-d's appreciation for an act
of true Chesed - kindness. Of all the names given to Moshe, (nine all told)
it was the name given to him by his adopted mother that identifies G-d's
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.