She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. "This is one of the Hebrew babies," she said. - Exodus 2:6
This Torah portion for this week is Shemot, which means "names," from Exodus 1:1-6:1, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23.
In this week's Torah portion we read about the birth of Moses, the one who would eventually save all Israel. As most of us familiar with the story know, the birth and survival of Moses was no easy thing. Pharaoh had decreed that every Jewish baby boy be drowned in the Nile. God caused a miracle (the first of many) and Moses was born three months early. This bought his parents some time, and they were able to hide Moses for three months before the time of his arrival was expected. At that point, Moses's parents realized that they had to let him go and rely on the grace of God. They placed him in a basket, set it on the Nile river, and prayed for the best.
God arranged that just as the basket was floating on the river, Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile for a bath. Now follow closely. She saw the basket, "She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. This is one of the Hebrew babies,' she said."
The Jewish sages ask two questions: First, how did Pharaoh's daughter know that the baby was a Hebrew? Secondly, in the original Hebrew, the verse first refers to a "baby boy" in the basket, but then refers to a "youth" who is crying. Why is Moses first called a baby, but then a child?
The answer given is that the verse is speaking about two different boys. Pharaoh's daughter opens the basket and sees baby Moses. Then she sees a child - Aaron, the brother of Moses - and he is crying. She realizes that Aaron is the baby's brother, connects the dots, and understands that this is a Hebrew baby in danger of death. It is Aaron's cries that pry open her heart and cause her to have compassion on Moses and save him.
The message of this teaching is that when we cry for ourselves, we have a limited effect. But when we cry for one another, we have a greater effect and can evoke miraculous salvation.
Today, I think that this message takes on an even greater meaning. When Jews cry for themselves, the world hardly listens. Yet again Jews are slaughtered. Yet again Jews are persecuted. The world yawns and moves on.
But when our Christian brothers and sisters cry out to the world on our behalf, suddenly the world listens. We need your cries today more than ever. Cry out for your Jewish brothers and sisters who face starvation, persecution, and terror. Tear open the heart of an indifferent world. Evoke their compassion, encourage their support, and help lead Israel to salvation.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President