Pharaoh’s Rebellious Daughter

How did she get away with it?! How did the daughter of Pharaoh manage to save the baby Moses, and raise him in the royal court, when her father had decreed that all Hebrew boys were to be killed? Etz—Hayim — the new Conservative commentary on the Humash — informs us that by making the “wet nurse contract” with the baby’s actual mother, Pharaoh’s daughter thwarted her father’s evil intentions. Moses was nursed and reared by his own mother who was paid wages for her work by Pharaoh’s daughter. This follows a pattern found in Mesopotamian legal documents related to the adoption of foundlings. One can surmise that by the time Moses actually came to court (“when the child grew up” — Genesis 2:10), his origin was not questioned and his adoptive mother could raise him with impunity in her father’s court.

But the very act of saving the child took moral courage, which did not escape the Rabbis’ attention. In a close reading of Exodus 2:5, they notice that Pharaoh’s daughter had only one slave girl (“amah”), which they find unusual, and they remark: “When her slave girls saw that Pharaoh’s daughter wished to save Moses, they said to her, ‘Our lady, in the world’s practice, when a king issues a decree, even if the whole world does not obey it, his own children and the members of his household do obey it. Yet you would violate your father’s decree!’ At that, Gabriel came down and smote them to the ground [leaving the princess but one “slave girl”].” (B. Talmud Sotah 12b)

Gabriel, the messenger from God, vindicates the “rebellious” daughter’s moral act of saving the innocent baby Moses. And we may ask ourselves — given similar circumstances — would we have had the courage to do the same thing? When confronted with outright unfairness, injustice or (as in this case) radical evil, what do we do? What do we expect of ourselves? Against what moral barometer do we measure ourselves? This model is a demanding one — one that I, personally, have not been able to reach all the time, but which I try to live up to as often as possible. It seems to me that when it comes to standing up for fairness and justice, and standing against radical evil, all of us can learn from the courage of Pharaoh’s daughter. When confronted with moral challenges — small and large — may we all have the inner strength to choose the right path.

With wishes for a good week and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Melissa Crespy

The publication and distribution of the Taste of Torah commentary has been made possible by a generous gift from Sam and Marilee Susi.