Thursday, January 03, 2008

Bitsy Bas Paroh

Bithia “Bitsy” Bas Pharaoh

(summary of R' Moshe Sokol's sermon for the sedra Shmot)

The Torah text is opaque on the character of Bat Paroh, Pharaoh’s daughter. It doesn’t even give us her name (that is only mentioned much later, in Chronicles). Who is this woman who saved and shaped the savior of the Jewish people?

The Midrash gives us three main approaches to understanding her. R’ Sokol, liking alliteration lists:

· Seeker

· Sufferer

· Stam

Rashi, describing Bat Paroh, gives a medrash that everyone with some Jewish education knows – that she extended her hand out, several metres, into the river to retrieve the basket with the baby Moshe. Think about her position. She was the daughter of Paroh, the daughter of a god whose word is law. Her father has decided that the national interest involves killing all the Jewish male babies. She goes against the national interest, the word of her father, the word of her god, and extends herself to this Jewish baby. She was a seeker, a rebel, looking to grow beyond herself, beyond her upbringing, to do the right thing.

A Medrash in the Yalkut Shimoni tells us, on the other hand, that Parohs daughter was a sickly child, covered with boils, ugly, ill much of her life. She was going down to the river to bathe and try to cure herself. She somehow got the idea that the baby in the basket would cure her, and sure enough, touching the baby Moshe cured her. Now, someone in pain is usually wrapped up in it, to the exclusion of outside concerns. However, Bas Paroh was able to use her suffering, to find empathy with the cry of the baby she heard from a distance, and through her pain she eased the babe’s pain, and thus was cured.

In another story, she was Bas Paroh, used to the life of privilege, stam a Princess. She went down to the river to have a beach party with her friends. But then she hears a baby cry. What does she have to do with abandoned babies? That’s not her business, that’s Somebody Else’s Problem. (Think about the self-centered heiresses of today). But she transcends her shallow nature to help another human being.

So too should we all seek to grow beyond the assumptions of our nature, and empathize with, and help, others.

2 comments:

Joe in Australia said...

Doesn't Rashi actually dismiss the arm story?

thanbo said...

Be that as it may, he still quotes their translation (hand not maidservant) *and* its rationale (the story). R' Sokol did mention Rashi's other reading.

Fact remains, the Gemara does bring this idea, and well, should we dismiss it because of grammar (we know the Rabbis were not so persnickety about grammar as the post-Masoretic commentators), or should we try to find a metaphorical understanding of it?