The Egyptians were steeped in black magic and sorcery, and they relied on astrological predictions.
During the enslavement and mistreatment of the Jews, the Pharoh’s astrologers informed him that the savior of the Jewish people would soon be born and that it would be a male.
Pharoh ordered the midwives, Shifrah and Puah, to kill all the male babies while they were being born.
The midwives, at risk to their own lives, totally ignored Pharoh’s decree, and even more so, lovingly cared for each baby. G-d richly rewarded the midwives for their unwavering dedication.
Our Sages tell us that these midwives were Moshe’s mother Yocheved, and her young daughter Miriam.
Rabbi Yosef Schwab wonders, how did Pharoh ever expect Moshe’s righteous mother, who was married to Amram – the leader of the Jewish people at the time, to abort Jewish babies?
If you notice, the Torah calls the midwives by Egyptian names Shifra and Puah, rather than their Jewish names. Why is that? There is a Medrash that tells us that Shifra and Puah were Egyptians! Says Rabbi Schwab, perhaps Yocheved and Miriam disguised and presented themselves as Egyptian midwives, leading Pharoh to think they would listen to his command. Pharoh was able to be deceived to benefit the Jews.
Astrology is ambiguous because it only can give a fuzzy picture. They foretold the savior would be born on the following day but weren’t sure if he was going to be Jewish or Egyptian. Pharoh therefore ordered that all Jewish and Egyptian baby boys born that day be thrown into the Nile River. Death by drowning was purposely chosen because the astrologers saw that the savior would be punished through water.
The reason why they were unclear if the savior was Jewish or Egyptian was because although Moshe was a Jew he was raised in Pharoh’s Palace.
Moshe was born to Amram and Yocheved secretly. His face shone and lit up the room so they realized he was destined to spiritual greatness. They hid him for three months and then placed him in a waterproof basket and set him afloat in the river. As soon as Moshe was placed in the water, the astrologers informed Pharoh that the baby had drowned.
Basya, the daughter of Pharoh, who wished to distance herself from her father’s idolatrous ways, went to bathe and ritually immerse in the river. She saw a basket floating and fetching it she saw a beautiful baby crying and she had pity on it. Basya realized that it was a Jewish child, and sent for a Jewish wet nurse. Miriam, Moshe’s sister, who had been watching all along from the side of the river brought Moshe’s mother Yocheved to Basya to feed her son. She did so until he was weaned! So now, Yocheved, the former ‘Egyptian midwife’ became a regular in the Pharoh’s palace.
Basya called the baby Moshe, which is derived from the words, “From the water he was drawn.” Moshe had other names but this one stuck as a tribute to Basya’s courage in saving him and raising him.
Moshe was adopted by Basya, and was raised as a prince in the palace of Pharoh.
Let’s pause and reflect. With all the sophistication and astrological capacities at Pharoh’s disposal, his own daughter saves, names and raises the future savior of the Jewish people in his own palace.
Pharoh enjoyed Moshe and called him by this name, yet it did not dawn upon him that this child was Jewish and was retrieved from the water while trying to elude Pharoh’s own decree!
Moshe’s true identity was revealed after he went out of his comfort zone of the palace and tried to make things better for the Jews. Pharoh was infuriated and sent officers to kill Moshe. Moshe was miraculously saved when his neck turned hard as marble, and deflected his pursuer’s sword. Moshe fled to the land of Midyan.
This episode left the Egyptians scratching their heads. They asked themselves, “How did this ever happen?” Deep down, they must have realized that it was all through G-d’s orchestration, but they couldn’t admit it.
Some 60 years later G-d summoned Moshe back to Egypt to represent the Jews and eventually lead them out of Egypt. The negotiations Moshe had with the Pharoh and the ensuing ten plagues that G-d walloped Egypt with, was in order to convince Pharoh that there is an Omnipotent G-d.
Every day we mention the Exodus of Egypt in our prayers. We especially study the Exodus when the portions of the week describe it, and at the Pesach Seder we all discuss it. If we were not continually reminded of G-d’s personal intervention for us in Egypt, we would be unable to recognize that He is with us all the time!