Parsha Halacha

Parshat Shemot


Daughter of Pharaoh, then Daughter of G-d

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The Torah portion of Shemot describes how the daughter of Pharaoh saved Moshe from the river where she had gone to bathe, as the verse says,[1] וַתֵּרֶד בַּת פַּרְעֹה לִרְחֹץ עַל הַיְאֹר וְנַעֲרֹתֶ֥יהָ הֹלְכֹ֖ת עַל־יַ֣ד הַיְאֹ֑ר וַתֵּרֶא אֶת הַתֵּבָה בְּתוֹךְ הַסּוּף וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ “And the daughter of Pharaoh went to bathe in the river while her maidens walked along the Nile, and she saw the box (that had Moshe in it), and she sent her maid, and she took it.”

According to our sages,[2] the name of Pharaoh’s daughter was Batya. While from the plain reading of the text, it seems that she was simply going to bathe,[3] the sages have a tradition that she was going to immerse in the river to purify herself from the idolatrous ways of her father.

Why Convert Now?

The Chatam Sofer wonders why, of all times, Batya decided to cleanse herself of her father’s idolatrous ways on that day. He explains that as long as the people remembered Yosef and remembered how his father Yaakov had blessed Pharaoh that the waters of the Nile would rise to greet him,[4] they would never have thrown Jewish babies into the Nile as that would be the height of ingratitude. The new Pharaoh, however, (or the new version of Pharaoh[5]) pretended to not know Yosef, i.e., he took credit for the Nile rising to greet him by saying that this was due to his own Divine powers. Batya, however, went to the river to reject her father’s idolatrous ways and to emphasize that she believed that the blessing came from Yaakov, and not from Pharaoh. It was therefore logical that she would save a Jewish baby, one of Yaakov’s descendants, from being killed by the river.

A Private Bathing Area

The verse says that Batya was bathing עַל הַיְאֹר– “on the river” while her maidens were walking עַל יַד הַיְאֹר “along the river.” This leads the Seforno to understand that Batya was bathing in a private bathing room that was situated just above the river (the water was directed into that bath) while her maidservants remained outside at the riverbank (for reasons of modesty). As such, she had only her personal attendant with her, a trusted servant who obeyed Batya’s command and brought the baby (Moshe) back. Had this event happened elsewhere, a lesser servant may have gone to get the baby and, seeing that the baby was Jewish, thrown the baby back into the Nile in observance of Pharaoh’s decree.

Sending the Maidservant and Sending her Hand

Rabbi Naftaly Tzvi Berlin in his Ha’amek Davar echoes the above idea but in a slightly different way. The verse says that וַתִּשְׁלַח אֶת אֲמָתָהּ וַתִּקָּחֶהָ. There are two opinions in the Talmud[6] as to how to translate these words. Some say it means “she sent her maidservant” while others say it means “she sent her arm” and that her arm miraculously stretched to reach the baby. Rabbi Berlin reconciles the two opinions[7]and explains that G-d arranged this event to occur in a manner that no one would find out the origins of the baby. Firstly, Batya was bathing in the river[8] with the assistance of her personal attendant while most of her servants remained at a distance, at the riverbank, out of respect. When she noticed the baby, however, she sent away her personal attendant (so she would not see where the baby came from) and then stretched out her hand which miraculously reached the baby. As such, no one in the royal court other than Batya knew with certainty the origins of the baby.

What’s in the Name?

The Midrash says[9] that G-d said to Batya, “Just as you called Moshe your son even though he was not (originally your son), I too will call you “my daughter” (בתיה means daughter of G-d) even though you were not (originally) my daughter.”

It has also been suggested[10] that the name Batya symbolized her conversion from worshiping her father, who was a self-proclaimed deity, to worshiping the one G-d. Thus, she went from being בַּת פַּרְעֹה the daughter of Pharaoh to being בַּתְיָה – the daughter of G-d.

Conversion or Purification

Some say[11] that Batya was symbolically purifying herself from the spiritual contamination of idol worship but that it was not a conversion to the Jewish faith as the Torah was not yet compulsory for the Jewish people. As such, there was not yet a concept of ritual conversion.

Others say that since there were some mitzvot which related to the Jewish people specifically, such as brit milah and not eating the sciatic nerve, it was already possible to formally convert.[12]

Private Conversion

According to the opinion that Batya’s immersion was an actual conversion, the commentaries discuss how the immersion could be valid if there was no rabbinic court (Beit Din) present. They explain[13] that, although not optimal, a private immersion is also valid. As the Shulchan Aruch says,[14] “Even if woman immerses for her Niddah immersion,” in which case no men would be present,[15] “the conversion is valid after the fact if there was already a formal acceptance of mitzvot in front of a Beit Din. Such a conversion cannot be officially recognized, however, as there would be no witnesses who could testify about it.[16] As such, it is possible that Batya formally accepted the Jewish laws at an earlier point and was therefore able to accomplish a conversion even without the presence of a Beit Din.

Brief Biography

●      Firstborn Daughter of Pharoah

According to the Midrash,[17] Batya was Pharaoh’s firstborn daughter. Moshe Rabeinu prayed for her that she be spared the fate of the firstborns[18] (in the tenth plague), which is alluded to in the verse[19] טָעֲמָה כִּי טוֹב סַחְרָהּ לֹא יִכְבֶּה בליל [בַלַּיְלָה] נֵרָהּ – She sees that her business thrives; her lamp never goes out at night. The word טוֹב (good) is referring to Moshe as the verse says,[20] “And she saw that he was good (טוֹב)” while the word לַּיְלָה (night) which is spelled ליל is referring to the night of the Exodus as it says,[21] לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים הוּא לַה׳ – “It is a guarded night for G-d.”

●      Married Kalev

According to the Talmud,[22] after the exodus from Egypt, Batya married Kalev ben Yefuneh. This was an appropriate shidduch since Batya had rejected idol worship and Kalev had similarly rejected the (bad) counsel of the spies.

More specifically, the spies did not believe in the supernatural powers of G-d to overcome the mighty kings of Canaan. Similarly, Pharoah only believed in the aspect of G-d called Elokim (G-d within nature) and not Havayah (G-d who is beyond nature).[23]

While one may not generally marry an Egyptian convert until the third generation, since Batya converted before the Torah was given, she was not considered to be an Egyptian in this regard.[24]

  • Age Disparity

If we assume that Batya was at least 15 years old when she “converted” to Judaism and found Moshe, she would have been 97 when the spies were sent to Israel since Moshe was 82 at that time.[25] This would have made her 57 years older than Kalev who was 40 when he was sent as a spy.[26] This was not the first time that Kalev married a woman older than himself as in Egypt he had married Miriam who was 6 years older than Moshe, making her 46 years older than Kalev.[27]

  • Why Not Yehoshua?

The commentaries discuss why Batya did not marry Yehoshua who also “rebelled” against the counsel of the spies. They offer several answers:

  •  Kalev pretended to be “in” on the plot of the spies and was therefore able to be more effective in trying to convince the Jewish people of the truth. As such, he was a greater “rebel” than Yehoshua.[28]
  • Moshe had prayed that Yehoshua not be taken in by the bad counsel of the spies. As such, he had greater Divine assistance and his success could not be attributed to himself in the same way as could the success of Kalev.[29]

●      Entered Gan Eden Alive

According to various Midrashic sources, Batya merited to eternal life and she entered Gan Eden alive.[30]

May we merit to bring up righteous offspring!

[1] Exodus 2:5

[2] Megillah 13a. Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, is mentioned in Divrei HaYamim I 4:18

[3] See Ibn Ezra. See also Targum Yonatan who says that she was trying to cleanse herself of boils

[4] See Genesis 47:10

[5] See Exodus 1:8 with Rashi

[6] Sotah 12b

[7] He writes that the ambiguous word אֲמָתָהּ is purposely used rather than שפחתה, which definitely means “maidservant” or ידה, which definitely means “hand.”

[8] See Ramban on the verse that עַל sometimes means “in.”

[9] Vayikra Rabbah 1:3

[10] Eim Lamikra

[11] Turei Aven by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginsburg (author of the Sha’agat Aryeh, 1695 – 1785) on Megillah ibid

[12] Hagahot Baruch Ta’am by Rabbi Baruch Frankel Thumim (1760 – 1828) on Megillah ibid, based on Rashi (D.H. Lirchotz) who says that she went to immerse for the sake of conversion

[13] Even Yaakov (by Rabbi Yaakov Maskin, New York 1942) on Megillah ibid

[14] Yoreh Deah 268:3

[15] Biur HaGra on ibid. See Yevamot 45b where it says, “There was a certain man whom people would call: Son of the Aramean (non-Jewish) woman, [as they cast aspersions on the validity of his mother’s conversion.] Rav Asi said: Didn’t she immerse for the sake of purifying herself from her menstruation? (meaning, this too can be considered a conversion).

[16] Shach 9 and 10 on ibid. The Shach explains that the acceptance of mitzvot is like the beginning of a court case which must take place by day and with a proper Beit Din while the immersion is like the end of a court case which can take place at night and without the full Beit Din (see Choshen Mishpat 5:2).

[17] Pesikta of Rav Kahana 17:67

[18] Some say that the female firstborn Egyptians died as well. See Shemot Rabbah 18:3 and Shulchan Aruch HaRav 470:3

[19] Mishlei 31:18

[20] Exodus 2:2

[21] Ibid 12:42

[22] Megillah 13a

[23] Ein Eliyahu on ibid by Rabbi Eliyahu Shik (Benei Berak 2003), Rashi on Numbers 13:11 and Exodus 5:2.

[24] Ohalim on Tractate Megillah (Jerusalem 1993)

[25] See Exodus 7:7

[26] See Yehoshua 14:7 and Pituchei Chotam on Megillah ibid by Rabbi Petachya Mordechai Berdugo

[27] Lekach Tov by Rabbi Chanaya Tuviah Dayan on Megillah ibid. See Sotah 12a and Shemot Rabbah 1:13

[28] Tehila LeYonah on Megillah ibid (Lakewood 2009). See Numbers 13:30 with Rashi

[29] Me’or Einayim on Megillah ibid, by Rabbi Meir Veragani (Jerusalem 1971). See Numbers 13:16 with Rashi.

[30] See Shemot Rabbah 20:4. Kallah Rabati, end of Chapter 3

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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