I’m sure that we all have our ideas about who are the heroes of the Torah. And we are about to begin the narrative of one of our greatest heroes—Moshe. But tonight I want to focus on another hero, someone who is not even named in the parsha.
We know the story well. The new Pharaoh, who has forgotten Joseph, has decided that the Jews are becoming a threat. So he orders all Jewish male babies killed. The mother of baby Moses can no longer hide him, so, when he is three months old, she puts him into a basket which she then sets on the Nile. I’m sure that she hoped that some compassionate person would come along and take pity on her son.
Well, that’s exactly what happens, but I’m sure that Jocheved, mother of Moshe, couldn’t have imagined the actual rescuer of her son: she is Pharaoh’s daughter. She saves Moshe from death, and she is the hero of this story. Without her intervention, Moshe might have died and perhaps we would not have been freed from bondage.
Yet this person is not given a name by the Torah. Now I know that the Torah doesn’t always give women a fair shake, but in this parsha, we have names for the midwives who rebel against pharaoh’s order. We have Moshe’s sister Miriam, who also is a key part of the story. And I’ve already mentioned Jocheved. But we don’t have a name for Pharaoh’s daughter. Who was she?
According to Chronicles, Pharaoh had a daughter named BITYA. Some have called her BATYA or BITTHIAH. Whatever her name, she knew that this was a Hebrew child. And that knowledge does not keep her from rescuing the baby and bringing him home to raise him as her own. And all that is obviously in defiance of Pharaoh’s direct orders.
Jonathon Sacks makes a very interesting observation about the importance of Batya. He points out that many of our patriarchs and matriarchs are named by God—for example, Jacob becomes Israel after his encounter with the angel; God renames Avram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. And, obviously, God named Adam and Eve. But it is Pharaoh’s daughter who names Moshe, which is an Egyptian name. God does not change the name, and to this day we identify the savior of our people with a name that was part of the culture that enslaved us. BUT Sacks hypothesizes that God was so moved by Batya’s rescue that He allowed her name to remain. He deferred to her decision. That’s pretty remarkable.
And there are other testaments to Batya’s righteousness: according to our tradition, she survived the plague of the first-born. In the blockbuster film of 1956 Batya even joins the exodus in leaving Egypt. And one other: according to the sages, there were nine people so righteous that they entered heaven directly while they were alive. In other words, they didn’t have to die at all. Batya was one of them. (If you’re curious about who were the others, they are:
· Elijah (Kings II Chapter 2, Verse 11)
· Serach, the daughter of Asher - one of the sons of Jacob
· Enoch (Genesis 5:22-24)
· Eliezer, the servant of Abraham
· Hiram, king of Tyre
· Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian, AND
· Jaabez, the son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi)
These are certainly not big names, but the idea is that they did something so righteous that God favored them with direct entrance to Paradise. Their physical bodies never died.
If you’ve been to Yad Vashem in Israel, then you know that there is an area called the Hall of Righteous Gentiles. In a way, Batya/Bitya/Bithiah is the first righteous Gentile. She risked her own safety and comfort because she took pity not simply on an innocent baby but on an innocent JEWISH baby. Let us pray that she may serve as an example for all of us.