Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 2 January 2016 / 21 Tevet 5776

Parshat Shmot

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Pharaoh’s Daughter Hides Moshe’s Identity

The narrative that describes the infant Moshe’s rescue by the daughter of Pharaoh and his being raised by her in the palace of Pharaoh presents numerous difficulties. Firstly, how could Pharaoh’s daughter even think of raising this child under the very noses of Pharaoh and his advisors? Wouldn’t they be suspicious of a Hebrew in the very palace of the king, especially since they might very well have been aware of the prophecy that the eventual savior of the Hebrews was born at that time? It is likely that they would think to themselves, “How can we allow this Hebrew child to grow up being exposed to and ultimately learning all the strategies and tactics of the ruler and his advisors?” Secondly, the verse (Shemot 4:11) tells us that, “It happened in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brethren and observed their burdens…” How did Moshe know that he was a Hebrew himself, that they were his brethren? Ordinary Egyptians avoided any contact with these lowly Hebrews. Certainly a prince raised in the palace of the king would have had nothing to do with them.

Abarbanel answers the first question by carefully analyzing the scenario of Moshe’s rescue by Pharaoh’s daughter. Because of her concern for modesty she was looking for a very private place to bathe, far from any populated areas. The verse tells us that she went down to bathe by the river, and her maidens walked along the river. Either they were just out for a stroll or perhaps they were on guard to make sure that nobody saw their mistress while she was bathing. In either case they were not in the immediate vicinity of Pharaoh’s daughter. We are then told that when she saw the basket in the reeds, she sent her maidservant and she took it. We can learn two things from this. First of all, the Hebrew word that is used for maidservant is not the same as the one used previously for her maidens. This woman had a unique position as her mistress’s trusted main attendant, and she was the only other individual to witness what had happened. As a result, Pharaoh’s daughter was able to keep Moshe’s true identity totally secret during all the years that she was raising him in Pharaoh’s palace.

In terms of the second question, Abarbanel answers simply that Moshe was never disconnected entirely from his mother Yocheved. Even though Pharaoh’s daughter had raised him like a son, Yocheved had a hand in raising him as well, and his soul, his very essence, was connected to her. He knew the truth about his origins and it was perfectly natural that he should relate to the other Hebrews as his brethren. As a result, it made perfect sense for him to show his concern for their plight.

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