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Welcome the book of Exodus! In this video, we explore the strange midrash in which the arm of Pharaoh's daughter stretched through the river to fetch Moses. Why do the Sages tell us such an odd story? Rabbi Fohrman argues that we need to put ourselves into the eyes of Pharaoh's daughter, and help us see that when we want to achieve something, God will help us find a way to do it.
This is Rabbi David Fohrman, and welcome to Parshat Shmot.
So, a number of years ago, my oldest child was quite young. He came home from kindergarten with a long cardboard cutout arm. I came home and saw this long, disembodied arm. I kind of knew immediately what it was. It comes from the famous comment made by the 'Medrish [00:00:17.26]' that Rashi quotes in this week's Parshat. It's the arm of the daughter of the Pharaoh. When baby 'Moshe [00:00:31.05]' was in the 'Hebrew [00:00:33.18]', along comes the daughter of the Pharaoh, to bathe in the Nile. But 'Hebrew [00:00:38.08]'. She sees this little box with this little child in the 'Hebrew [00:00:41.14]'. "'Hebrew [00:00:43.02]'". Now, here's where it gets tricky.
The plain and simple meaning texts, she sent her maid servant to go fetch the child. But that's the simple meaning of the texts; not actually how it is interpreted in 'Midrasha [00:00:56.18]'. Here's the 'Midrasha [00:00:57.03]' interpretation. The word 'Ama [00:01:00.18]' is an 'Hebrew[00:00:59.29]' that has another meaning. The word 'Ama [00:01:01.22]' can also mean 'arm'. So, the way that the Rabbi is reading 'Hebrew [00:01:06.29]' is, "Her arm miraculously stretched from the position she was in so that she could reach the child." And that's what my son came home with, with this long cutout.
'Madrish [00:01:19.11]' sometimes get a bad reputation because people look at it and say, "This stuff is the strangest stuff in the world. I mean, why can't they leave a good, simple story the way it is? I mean, what would have happened if that really have?" Imagine you are the daughter of a Pharaoh. Here you are, you come along the Nile, you see Moses - this little baby; you have compassion upon him. You're a little nervous because he's a Jewish child and you are about to send your maid servant, "Go fetch him." When all of a sudden, your arm just stretches like a fishing rod; you go and grab that child and your arm comes back. What would you do next if you were the daughter of the Pharaoh? I mean, I would run screaming back to the palace, “My arm! My arm! What happened to my arm?” Why is the Rabbi telling you this? What could they possibly mean?
I think the Rabbi is being very sensitive to the new answers of the Biblical text. You always have to read the ‘Madrish [00:02:06.14]’ in connection to the Biblical text, not divorced to the Biblical text. Reading a ‘Madrish [00:02:11.08]’ alone is kind of like listening to the harmony of a song without it’s melody. If you ever play piano, you know that the right hand of the piano will carry the melody; the left hand will carry the harmony. So, if you are listening to ‘Old McDonald had a farm’, you’re only listening to the right hand. I sounds like ‘Old Mcdonald had a farm’. But if you are listening to ‘Old McDonald had a farm’ and you only listen to the left hand, it doesn’t sound like anything. It sounds like nonsense.
Well, the simple meaning of the text is kind of like the right hand. It’s the text; it sounds like a story. The ‘Madrish [00:02:47.21]’ is kind of like harmony; on it’s own, it sounds like nonsense. Put it together with the right hand, and it really sounds like ‘Old McDonald had a farm’. But you have to listen to the melody in a certain way with the harmony.
So, what is the melody of the story? Put yourself into the shoes of that maid servant - the one who is dispatched by the princess to fetch the child. Your number one goal - as lady-in-waiting for the princess - is to look out for the interests of your mistress. Now, look at the scene. Her father, the Pharaoh, has decreed a genocide against this Jewish nation. Little baby boys are being murdered, thrown in the Nile, drowned by the ‘Hebrew [00:03:31:18]’. It’s a mass extermination, carried out at all levels of the Egyptian society. Civilians are involved. Its not easy for civilians to drown little kids.
Along comes the daughter of Pharaoh, sees the Jewish child in the distance. See that look in her face? ‘Hebrew [00:03;48:02]’ She had compassion on the child. But then the ‘Hebrew [00:03:56:07]’ - the cognitive part of her brain came in and said, “It’s a Jewish child.” It’s a conflict there! The daughter of the Pharaoh - the princess - had compassion on a child. She makes a decision and fetch you, “Go fetch the child for me.” What’s your job now?
You’ve got to be the one to say ‘no’. “Princess, this is crazy! You can’t defy your father like this. Look who you are!” But what if the daughter of the Pharaoh insisted, “Go fetch the child!” You would say, “Look, your Highness. Let’s be reasonable. We can pass it off to some other mother; we would give him back to some Jewish mother. You don’t have to take this child. It’s a big risk.” She said, “No! I am responsible. I must take care of it. “Fine! Take the child; bring him into the palace. But don’t raise him as a Jew. Tell him who he is.” She says, “No, that wouldn’t be right! He must know who he is. He has to know his heritage. He must know that he is a Jew.”
In fact, Moses does know that he is a Jew. When he grows up, he goes to check on his brothers. How did he now those were his brothers? The daughter of Pharaoh must have told him who he was. Look what she’s trying to do with this child.
I mean, there are certain things that you can do in life; there are certain things that are out of your reach. Out of your reach. Ask yourself this question: when the daughter of Pharaoh saw Moshe 30 yards away, was that child in her reach? Or, out of her reach?
You see, from a physical standpoint, obviously, the child is in her reach. Just dispatch your maid servant,have her walk over there and go get the child. But in every way but the physical, that child is completely beyond her reach. What she wants to achieve with that child - to bring that child up as a proud Jew in the palace - is completely beyond her reach. You can’t do that in Pharaoh’s Egypt. You can’t do that if you are the daughter of the Pharaoh. But she sends the maid servant anyway. She reaches for that which is beyond her reach, and her arm reaches. Her arm extends beyond that which could possibly be imagined that she can achieve.
Read the text carefully, with the melody and the harmony together. All of us has things that are in our reach and out of our reach. What the ‘Hebrew [00:06:08:09]’ seems to be telling us, is that sometimes, when you spot something out of your reach and you reach for it anyway, your arm can strech. God can help you achieve that dream. There’s ‘Hebrew [00:06:23:12]’ that you can hardly imagine.
1. V'Zot Habracha: Looking Towards the Future - Part 3/3
2. Ha'azinu: A Unique Nation - Part 2/3
3. Nitzavim-Vayeilech: Where's the Happy Ending? - Part 1/3
4. Ki Tavo: Answer
5. Ki Tavo: Question
6. Ki Teitzei: Answer
7. Ki Teitzei: Question
8. Shoftim: Epilogue 2
9. Shoftim: Epilogue 1
10. Shoftim: The Line Between Murder And Apathy
11. Re'eh: Jewish Slavery
12. Part II: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
13. Part I: Eikev: What Does It Mean To Be A Good Person?
14. Va'etchanan: Seeing Layers in the Ten Commandments
15. Devarim: What Does It Mean To Have Faith?
16. Masei: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? II
17. Matot: Why Is The End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?
18. Pinchas: What Does It Mean To Be Zealous For God?
19. Balak: Balaam, Prophet For Hire?
20. Chukat: Was Hitting the Rock So Horrible?
21. Korach: Can We Influence God?
22. Shelach: Is Hope Irrational?
23. Behaalotecha: A Guide For...Parenting? Part II
24. Naso: A Guide For...Parenting?
25. Bamidbar: Who Cares About Genealogy?
26. Bechukotai: Why Would God Curse His People?
27. Behar: Why Does Land Have To Rest?
28. Emor: Is There A Shabbat In Other Realms?
29. Kedoshim: How Can I Achieve True Love?
30. Acharei Mot: The (Surprising) Purpose of Yom Kippur
31. Shemini: Why Did God Reject Nadav and Avihu?
32. Tzav: What Does It Mean To Survive?
33. Vayikra: Can Leaders Make Mistakes?
34. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
35. Vayakhel: What Does It Mean To Be Tzelem Elokim?
36. Ki Tisa: Moshe's Benevolent Chutzpah
37. Tetzaveh: Where Is God In a Physical World?
38. Terumah: Is There a Face Hiding in the Tabernacle?
39. Mishpatim: Female Servitude...Wait, What?
40. Yitro: The Marriage of God and Israel
41. Beshalach: What Does It Mean to Have Faith?
42. Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues?
43. Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will?
44. Shmot: If Midrash is Real, Why Isn't It Peshat?
45. Vayechi: Who is Joseph's Real Father?
46. Vayigash: The Epic Confrontation Between Judah and Joseph
47. Miketz: Why Didn't Joseph Write Home?
48. Vayeishev: Who Really Sold Joseph?
49. Vayishlach: Becoming a Person of Integrity
50. Vayeitzei: Consequences of Yaakov's Deceit
51. Toldot: A Conversation For the Ages
52. Chayei Sarah: What Makes For A Successful Life?
53. Vayeira: Abraham's Struggle With Loyalty
54. Lech Lecha: Covenant With God
55. Bereishit: Does Man 'Acquire' Woman?
56. Noach: Why Did God Destroy the World?
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