Emanuel Synagogue

Parashat Shemot

This Shabbat I want to tell you a remarkable story about a woman whose name we do not know but whose deeds have impacted upon the entire Jewish people. This woman was young and single but from a very privileged background. She had everything she could hope for and more. She lived in a society which was strongly patriarchal and she knew her place but she was also feisty and spirited. She was prepared to go her own way when necessary. But until the day she was called upon to be a hero, nobody would have imagined that she had it in her. Sure she was rebellious like all young women her age, she defied her father, did things she was not supposed to do, but never would anyone have imagined that she would go as far as she did, but what she did, saved a whole nation of people, indirectly, and yet we do not even know her name, so lost has she become in the annuls of history and so this Shabbat I want to honour her and to remember HER story, rather than the one of the famous person she rescued.

Of course he was not famous then, he was a baby with his whole future ahead of him, except that he did not have a future thanks to the government. Their laws meant that his very existence was illegal. His mother, filled with love for him knew that the only way to save him was to abandon him and let him go. He was not a child left on a street corner because his mother did not love him, no he came from a good and loving home, but it was too dangerous for him to stay there. So, his mother placed him in a basket and sent him down the river, hoping that someone would find him before any of the creatures of the river did. 

Our hero was bathing with her attendants when she heard the cry of a child. This was one of those defining moments of life. She could have ignored the cry, she could have turned away, justified it somehow, and gone on with her day, but instead she went to investigate. She saw the baby in the basket and knew immediately that it was a Hebrew child, the very children that her father had decreed should die. What was she to do? To take him in was an act of defiance and rebellion against not only her own family but also the king of the land, the man who was a god, whose word was law. If he ever found out she could be killed or worse. And she was not there alone. She had her handmaidens with her, they would always know, if they did not approve they could easily turn her in for a sizable reward. But then she saw the baby, the small helpless child. She would be a single mother, raising him alone, but she also had the resources of the palace at her disposal. She could give him a better life than he would have with his own family. She could give him life. She took the baby in her arms and she knew that he would be hers. She named him Moses, and although she was not his birth mother, she was his mother, she adopted him in the waters of the Nile and so doing risked her own life and all that she held precious. 

This Shabbat let’s remember this brave woman and her deeds and how the actions of one person can change the fate of a nation. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio