The Connection Between Bat Paro & Caleb
What does it mean to be a rebel for God?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The Torah doesn’t seem to tell us very much about Bat Paro, the daughter of Pharaoh, but the Talmud seems to know a lot more: they explain that, Bat Paro got married to Caleb (one of the spies from the story in Numbers 13-14). What did the Rabbis see in the Torah text that led them to this conclusion? The answer opens up a fascinating study about who Bat Paro really was, who Caleb really was, and why they were perfectly suited for one another.
On a recent Shabbos, Rabbi Fohrman sat down with his youngest of six children, 12-year old Avichai, for some Talmud study, and they stumbled across a mysterious discussion about Bat Paro, the daughter of Pharaoh. You know, the one who was bathing by the Nile when she saw baby Moses floating by in a box?
Well, the Torah text doesn’t seem to tell us very much about Bat Paro, but the rabbis seem to know a lot more. According to the rabbis, Bat Paro got married to a Jewish man. Who was it? Calev or Caleb, one of the twelve spies who we read about in Parshat Shelach, Numbers 13.
What did the rabbis see in the Torah text that led them to this conclusion? The answer opens up a fascinating study about who Bat Paro really was, who Calev really was, and why they were perfectly suited for one another.
Once Shabbos ended, Rabbi Fohrman and Avichai turned on a recorder and had a conversation to capture the insights that they’d gleaned during their Shabbos learning — and that’s what you’re about to hear.
Rabbi Fohrman is going to start by talking about a pasuk, a verse, in Divrei HaYamim, the Book of Chronicles, Book 1, Chapter 4, verse 18, that describes the daughter of Pharaoh. And then he’s going to reference the Gemara, the Talmud, which comments upon that verse. It’s Megillah daf yud gimmel amud aleph, Tractate Megillah page 13a. By the way, if you want to look at the sources, I’ve put together a source sheet for you.
OK, that’s all you need to know. I’ll let Rabbi Fohrman and Avichai take it away.
Rabbi David Fohrman: Hey, okay, so this is David and Avichai, and it's late June 2020. We're talking about the daughter of Paro. So we saw some of this over Shabbos, right? We saw this Gemara over here, and we had some theories about where they got it from. So the Gemara says a couple things, says that first of all, the daughter of Paro had a name, because of course in the Torah itself, she doesn't, she's just Bat Paro.
But over here, she is Bitya or Batya, the daughter of Hashem, and we also hear about her husband by the name of Mered, right? "V'eileh b'nei Bitya bat Paro asher lakach Mered." (“And these are the children of Bitya the daughter of Pharaoh that Mered married.”) This is what the pasuk in Divrei Hayamim says, and the Gemara over here in Megillah yud gimel (page 13) comments on that, and says "v'chi mered sh'mo," right, was his name really Mered? — "v'halo Calev sh'mo?" [Wasn’t his name Caleb?] The Gemara first of all seems to know already that Mered is Calev.
Avichai: Seems to know that you know.
Rabbi Fohrman: Seems to know that you know. Like, we all know that Mered was Calev —
Avichai: Yeah, "v'halo sh'mo Calev?"
Rabbi Fohrman: Obviously, "sh'mo Calev!" [His name was Caleb!] The only question is, why do we call him Mered, right? Which is silly, because, like, really? I knew that Mered was Calev? I don't think I knew that, right? So it's a case where the Gemara's saying, come on, you know this, you know that Mered is Calev, right? So that already is a tip off that the Gemara saw something that it thinks you should see, you should know. You know that Mered is Calev, right? And we discovered what it was, the beginnings of what it was that the Gemara saw that made it so sure that Mered was Calev.
So, but let's just finish the Gemara. The Gemara says, "v'halo Calev sh'mo, amar Hakadosh Baruch Hu," God was saying by calling him Mered, "yavo Calev shemarad beit hamaraglim," let Calev, who was a rebel against the eitza of the meraglim, the ideas of the spies, "v'yisa," let him marry a girl after his own heart. "Bat Paro shemarda b'gilulei bet aviha," let her marry the daughter of Paro who rebelled against the idols of her father's house, right?
Now, so, we began to take that apart. So we said, first of all it's interesting that the Gemara would see Calev and bat Paro as similar personalities, because even though they're rebels, you wouldn't have immediately thought that they're rebelling in a similar kind of situation, right? Because rebelling against the spies is very different than the rebelling of the daughter of Paro. And plus, you would have thought that the daughter of, right — if I asked you, who did Calev rebel against —?
Avichai: He rebelled against the meraglim [spies].
Rabbi Fohrman: And so, what do you learn from him? He rebelled against a whole bunch of people, like he was a one person who went up against a whole bunch of people.
Rabbi Fohrman: Well, there are two people, Yehoshua and Calev, who went up against a whole bunch of people, right?
Rabbi Fohrman: He was strong enough to be like an individual or two people against a whole majority of their peers, of all their friends like that, right? And now think about the daughter of Paro, who did she rebel against?
Avichai: Her father.
Rabbi Fohrman: So you'd say it's different, she rebelled against an authority figure.
Avichai: Not really.
Rabbi Fohrman: But not really. The Gemara seems to be saying they're actually the same, and you see that in the Gemara itself, because who does it say the daughter of Paro rebelled against? She rebelled against who? She didn't rebel against her father, according to the Gemara.
Avichai: "Beit aviha." [the house of her father]
Rabbi Fohrman: Beit aviha, good. So the Gemara's saying really they rebelled against similar situations, they rebelled against their peers. They rebelled against their society. She rebelled not just against her father, against beit aviha, against palace society. So, in a way the Gemara is inviting you into a little journey to imagine in your own mind, what would it be like to be bat Paro? What kind of peer pressure do you think you'd have been under if you were bat Paro with respect to these slaves? How does everyone in the palace view them? Right?
So, the slaves are getting murdered, babies getting thrown into the Nile — it's horrifying, right? It's disgusting, these babies — what can be worse than babies thrown into the Nile, right? Do you think that it got in the way of any of the people in the palace going to their cocktail receptions before dinner, with their tuxedo and their tie? And their ball dance? Or what do you think, they were able to still have an appetite after watching what was happening to the slaves?
Avichai: They're just killing flies.
Rabbi Fohrman: They were just killing flies. They saw them as insects, right? Now, where do you see in the text that they saw them as insects? Over shabbos you came up with that language, right? Where do we have that language in Mitzrayim that suggests that the people of Mitzrayim didn't quite see them as human?
Avichai: Um… uvenei Yisrael paru v'yishretzu [Ex. 1:7] (“and the children of Israel were fruitful and they swarmed”)...
Rabbi Fohrman: Good, right? "Vayishretzu" is one of those creepy crawly words. As if they're kind of creepy crawlies. And vayakutzu mifnei b'nei yisrael (“and they were fearful because of the children of Israel”) [Ex. 1:12] is also a language of, like, shrink away like you're disgusted when you see a creepy crawly on the floor, right? So the people, it wasn't just that the Egyptians were afraid of the Jews; they were like, oh my gosh, there's a snake on the floor, right?
So, you don't, like, get disgusted when a snake is killed; you can still eat dinner right? You think, ah, thank goodness that snake is killed, right? That's how the Egyptians saw it, right? That's how the peer group saw it. But along comes the daughter of Paro and she hears this baby crying, and she says I'm rebelling against that. How does she relate to that baby?
Avichai: She relates to him like a son.
Rabbi Fohrman: Like a son. Not just — you know, and that's a good point. Not just like a human being, but like a son, right? The very opposite, right? You took human beings and you made them into snakes. I take human beings and I make them into my children. Right? And so that's what she says. So she comes and she's "marda b'beit aviha" [she rebelled against her father’s house]. And so it's similar, right?
In other words, what Chazal are asking us to understand is that both Calev and the daughter of Paro rebelled against their peer group, right? Not just against some authority, right? They rebelled against their peer group. Now the next thing, so let's come back to that question we asked, which is how was the Gemara so sure that you should know that Mered is Calev? That it says "valo Calev sh'mo," we all know his name was Calev, right? How does the Gemara know that you know?
Now you picked that up, because we went back to the actual text of the meraglim and we saw language that made us convinced that we'd begun to understand where the Gemara was coming from, because it was something that Calev said right there.
Avichai: "Ach b’Hashem al timrodu." (Caleb had said to the other spies and the people: But don’t rebel against God!) [Num. 14:9] [The word timrodu comes from the same root as Mered.]
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. "Ach b’Hashem al timrodu." Here's Mr. Mered. So the Gemara takes "ach b'Hashem al timrodu," which means his plea to the other people, to the whole nation who's crying, "b'hashem al timrodu," don't rebel against God, "v’atem al tir'u," and don't fear the am ha'aretz, don't fear the people of the land, "ki lachmenu hem," right? Because we're gonna be able to [defeat them], "Hashem itanu, al tira," God is with us, don't be afraid of them. Right? So, who is Calev? He's Mr. "al timrodu," right? So the Gemara takes "al timrodu" and turns it on its head.
Avichai: "Al timrodu." [Don’t rebel.]
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. "Al timrodu." So what is the Gemara really saying about Calev?
Avichai: That he wasn't really a rebel.
Rabbi Fohrman: He wasn't really a rebel. He was a rebel in some respects, but the opposite of a rebel in other respects. So, how is he a rebel?
Avichai: He was a rebel against the meraglim.
Rabbi Fohrman: Against his peer group.
Rabbi Fohrman: But a lot of people rebel, and you ask them why they rebel — you know why people rebel sometimes? Because that's the kind of people they are. They're rebels. It's not like they have a cause that they believe in; they just want to do things differently. Me, I'm a rebel. I do my own thing. You do X, I'll do Y, right? A lot of people, a lot of kids, as they begin to get into teenagerhood, they'll rebel against their parents. Why?
Not because they believe in anything necessarily, but because that's the job of the teenager to rebel against their parents. I don't really know what I believe, just not you. Right? I don't know what I believe about the meraglim — I'm just not one of the meraglim. But is Calev a rebel? He's only a rebel in some respects. He's also Mr. al timrodu, Mr. —
Avichai: "Ach b'Hashem al timrodu."
Rabbi Fohrman: "Ach b'Hashem al timrodu." So he does recognize authority — you'd say the one thing a rebel never recognizes authority. Right? He'll never rebel against someone trying to tell him what to do — but not Calev. Calev, who rebelled against the meraglim, also said I accept the authority of my father in Heaven, "ach b'Hashem al timrodu." We cannot rebel against God. Now, if Chazal tell us that Calev picked a girl after his own heart, what does that tell us about the daughter of Paro?
Avichai: That she was also "mered," but not exactly.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. She was also "mered" against her society, the palace. She saw the Jews differently, but she wasn't just a rebel without a cause. She wasn't just someone who was gonna do her own thing. She also accepted the authority — of who?
Avichai: Of b'nei yisrael?
Rabbi Fohrman: No. What authority did she accept in rebelling against the palace? The palace thought that Jews were insects. What's her name?
Avichai: Batya, and Bat Paro.
Rabbi Fohrman: She's Bat Paro, but what's her name?
Avichai: I don't know.
Rabbi Fohrman: Batya. What does that mean?
Avichai: Like… the bat of hashem, the daughter.
Rabbi Fohrman: So she was rebelling against her beit aviha [father’s house], and aviha [father], but whose authority did she accept?
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. She was saying, I look at my own father and I say I can't believe you're my father, I completely reject your values, right?
Rabbi Fohrman: But it's not like I'm just an adolescent, it's not just like I get paid to rebel. It's not just like I'm doing my own thing.
Rabbi Fohrman: I do accept the authority of the father, but higher father. What does Hashem say about you, human beings? They're all humans, there's no such thing as snake-humans. Right? And therefore I accept that authority, right? And that's why the Torah, Divrei Hayamim gives her a different name. The same Chazal that says she marries Calev, Mr. "al timrodu" of God says her name was really Batya.
Now we don't know if her name was actually Batya, but it means that we can call her Batya, because in effect, she was God's daughter. It's as if she was saying I don't accept being your daughter, Paro; I'm gonna be God's daughter. Right? So, here's what struck me. It struck me as interesting because in a way, there's an interesting midah k'neged midah [measure for measure] in how God deals with Paro. An interesting tit for tat. Because what relationship did Paro have with the Jews?
Now, he enslaved them, but before he enslaved them, this Paro, right, there was another Paro before this, the Paro in Yosef's time. What relationship did that Paro have with Yosef and his family? Let's start with Yosef. What kind of relationship did the first Paro have with Yosef?
Avichai: Um… a good one.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. What kind of relationship was that good relationship?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yosef was in prison, Paro took him out, gave him nice clothes, gave him a new job, gave him a nice car, a big chariot to ride around in.
Avichai: [laughing] A nice car!
Rabbi Fohrman: Gave him a new name, gave him a wife.
Rabbi Fohrman: What kind of relationship is Paro having with Yosef?
Avichai: A… like, father?
Rabbi Fohrman: Like a father. Not his biological father, that would be Yaakov, but I have a father-like relationship with you. In a way, that just made slavery worse in the next generation with the next Paro, because when Yosef's brothers come, Paro's like, yeah, bring them all in, put them in the most beautiful place in Goshen. And when his father comes, it's like wow, this is your father, amazing. He's so nice to the whole family, right? So, the family has this relationship with the crown of Egypt, which is like a father-son relationship with the whole family, like Paro's taking care of us.
And then the next generation happens, and all of a sudden there's a new king. And that new king takes advantage of the close relationship. Think about it — one of the things that a father could ask of a child is to do some chores around the house, clean up a little, help wash the floor now and then. You see how similar that is to slavery?
Rabbi Fohrman: So it's like, hey, I want you to do some chores around here in Mitzrayim. And it's like in the beginning, sure, we'll do some chores. But they get lured in, and pretty soon it's not a father anymore, but it's an abusive father who tortures you and tries to kill you. So Paro took fatherhood and messed with it, and we were vulnerable because we trusted him like a father. Along comes God and says to Paro, I've got a message for you. You tell Paro, Hashem says to Moshe, "b'ni bechori yisrael" (“Yisrael is my firstborn son”) [Ex. 4:22]
Avichai: Oh, "b'ni." (“my son”)
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. What's God really saying?
Avichai: It's really my son.
Rabbi Fohrman: My son. There's a higher father. Get your hands off of them, you're a fake father. I want my kid back.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right? You kidnapped my kid.
Avichai: Why does he say Yisrael and not Yosef?
Rabbi Fohrman: Because now it's a whole nation, right? So, b'ni bechor yisrael —
Avichai: I know, but like, Paro doesn't know about Yisrael.
Rabbi Fohrman: True, that's a new name that he's giving him. He says you've gotta know something, it's a special name, because God has a special relationship with them. It's a godly name that was given by an angel, and therefore there's a God in heaven who says that He's the one who has the special relationship with them, get your hands off. Right? And if you don't get your hands off, what am I gonna do? "Vatema’ein leshalcho," you tell Paro that if he doesn't send my child out, you know what the end of that pasuk is? [Ex. 4:23] What the threat is? This is all the way at the beginning of yetziat Mitzrayim (“the exodus from Egypt”), the very beginning of the burning bush.
You tell Paro, b'ni bechor Yisrael, My firstborn child is Israel. And you tell him that if he doesn't set free the Jews — let's look at the actual pasuk. "Va'omar eilecha shalach et b'ni v'ya'avdeni vat'maen l'shalcho hineh anochi horeg et bincha b'chorecha." It's gonna come down to Me killing your firstborn child. Now in the end, He does, but I would say not only does God kill firstborn children, there's one other way in which God takes away Paro's child. A kind of death of a child without killing them. Because who else is the child of Paro? Bat Paro. And what does her name become?
Avichai: Batya… oh! Cool!
Rabbi Fohrman: See?
Rabbi Fohrman: Hashem is saying she's gonna be my child. You took my kid?
Avichai: I'll take yours.
Rabbi Fohrman: I'll take yours. She's gonna reject everything you stand for! She's not gonna accept you as the authority figure. What do you think you're gonna do? You think you're gonna tell everyone to toss their kids in the Nile? Who are you gonna get to believe that? Who are you gonna get to follow you? Yeah, sure, you'll get all the people out on the street in Mitzrayim, because they're afraid of you, but who's the one person who's not afraid of you?
Avichai: Your daughter.
Rabbi Fohrman: Your own daughter. And what do kids do when they get to be teenagers?
Rabbi Fohrman: They decide who they are. They decide, I can't just be my child's father, I have to find my own identity. My father's child. To find my own identity, right? And a natural part of growing up is like no, your values are your values, but I'm gonna do my own thing a little bit. So God says, how do you want her to rebel? If you go and you do this atrocious thing, everybody feels a little squeamish about it, but then there's peer pressure and everyone's doing it, so everyone throws the kids in the Nile and nobody thinks about it anymore.
But who's gonna be the one person who's not gonna listen? She's not scared of you, because she's your child, there'll come a time — this is how she'll rebel. She'll say no, she'll find another father, she'll find Me. She'll realize that those values are awful. She'll reject all of your values, and say no, humans are humans, and she takes Moshe and she brings him up in the palace. And every time — and think about what she does. She brings a Jewish child into the palace when Paro says kill all the Jewish children. Can you imagine what Paro must have thought every time the daughter of Paro's like, oh, little baby, let's play, let's play in the ground, say hi to Saba, right? Say hi Saba! Every time she's doing that, what is she doing?
Avichai: She's saying, this is my son, and he's a yisrael.
Rabbi Fohrman: And you might believe in destroying them, and you might believe in killing them, but every time I have this Jew in the palace that I bring up as my own child, I'm spitting in your eye and your values. Saying I don't believe in that. She is marad b'beit aviha, she's the rebel against her father's house. But, "ach b'Hashem al timrodu," but becoming that, she becomes the daughter of Hashem. So God says, you see what you're doing?
There is a way that I'll punish you through miracles, through the death of the firstborn, and there's a way that your own acts will come back to haunt you "b'derech hateva" (in a natural way). It's just the way of the world. If you do such a cruel thing as to require everyone to throw children in the Nile, all you're gonna do is alienate your own daughter. She's gonna be My daughter. You're gonna take kids and make them yours, who aren't really yours; I'll have them taking your kids and make them Mine. And that becomes how yetziat Mitzrayim [the Exodus] happens, because it wasn't just any old kid. She brought up a kid in the palace who understood, no, I'm like a royal person, I could stand up, I'm not intimidated by Paro, and this is the child who comes and saves everyone.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right? So it's this fascinating kind of midah k'neged midah [measure for measure]. Alright, when we come back next time, what I want to do is go back in the text and see what else did Chazal see? This is what we began to do over shabbos — what are the other indications in the story of bat Paro that seems to connect that story to the meraglim? We've seen one, the idea of rebellion. But there's others, and we began to see some of the others, and last night I put the two texts side by side, and as I did, it was like, oh, now I see more.
Rabbi Fohrman: So instead of just searching your memory, actually seeing the texts side by side, and all of a sudden, it all comes out and it all comes out. Let me show you one thing I saw, just, and then we'll finish, right? But here's this crazy thing I just saw. Look at how the story of Shemot begins. "V'eileh shemot b'nei yisrael ha'baim Mitzrayimah" (“And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt”) [Ex. 1:1]. Look at how the story of the meraglim begins.
Avichai: "V'eileh shemotam." [Num. 13:4]
Rabbi Fohrman: “And these are their names.”
Avichai: And "l’mateh Reuven..." (“and from the tribe of Reuben…”) [Num. 13:4]
Rabbi Fohrman: L'mateh Reuven, and we start with Reuven, and what do we start with over here [Ex. 1:2]? Reuven. Followed by Shimon, we go down the list of names.
Avichai: That's so cool!
Rabbi Fohrman: It's like the whole story happening over again. Two rebellions.
Avichai: Yeah. But what about the names themselves, are they similar?
Rabbi Fohrman: So it's interesting, if you go through the names you'll see little differences, right? Like here, Levi's not included, right? Levi didn't get there, right? And a couple of them switch out, it's pretty much there, right? But… and by the way, look at this. Look what happens in the beginning of the story, and look what happens at the end of that one.
Avichai: "Vayamat yosef v'chol echav v'chol hador hahu." [Ex. 1:6]
Rabbi Fohrman: And Yosef and all of his brothers and all of that generation died out. And then, there's a new story. Well, what happens at the end of the story of the spies? What does that remind you of at the end of the story of the spies?
Avichai: Oh! That is so cool!
Rabbi Fohrman: A whole generation dies out.
Avichai: That is really cool!
Rabbi Fohrman: So this is just what I saw last night. I suspect there's more, and if we go through it, we'll begin to see the whole puzzle come together.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay? Alright, Chai, nice hanging with you.