We must all follow Moses’s example and never neglect our responsibility to show appreciation and gratitude to those who deserve it.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Beshalach” (Exodus 13:17-17:16) and it we read about what is probably the most spectacular miracle of the entire Bible: The splitting of the Red Sea.
When the Jewish People seemed trapped between the sea and the army of Pharaoh, who decided that he wanted to bring his slaves back to Egypt, God caused a miracle to occur. The waters of the Red Sea split, allowing the Jewish people to cross through the sea on dry land. After the Jews were safely across, the Divine cloud that prevented Pharaoh’s army from reaching the Jews was lifted and the waters came crashing down on the Egyptians, killing them all.
At that moment, the Jewish people sang a special song of thanksgiving to God for having been saved. To remember this song, this Shabbat is known as “Shabbat Shira” – the Shabbat of Song.
Going back a bit, in addition to packing before leaving Egypt, the Jewish people were also busy, running house to house collecting valuables from their Egyptian neighbors who were happy to part with them as long as the Jews and their plagues left. This is how the Jews became rich when leaving Egypt.
There was one man, however, who was not busy collecting money and jewels, and his name was Moses. There were two things that he was busy doing. The first is relatively well known, as it is mentioned explicitly in the Torah; namely, he was preparing Joseph’s body to be taken out of Egypt along with the Jewish People. Joseph made his descendants swear that they would take his body out of Egypt when they eventually left and bury it in the Land of Israel. Moses was fulfilling a promise to which the entire Jewish People was essentially bound.
The other task that Moses was perferming is not as well known: He was doing the same for Batya, his stepmother. Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, saved and adopted Moses when she saw him floating in a basket on the Nile. Even though it was against the law, she saved a Jewish baby boy who eventually became the redeemer and leader of the Jewish People.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Moses is 80 years old, and as such, Batya has likely been dead for many years. The scene must have been chaotic. Over a million slaves about to be freed. Collecting valuables. Packing belongings. What is Moses doing digging up his stepmother’s coffin?
One answer: Gratitude. Even after many decades, even at the prospect of losing the opportunity to collect valuables, even as so many people needed his counsel and leadership, Moses didn’t forget his stepmother. He was returning a debt of gratitude. He was demonstrating to everyone that Batya was “one of us.” Were it not for her, the Jewish People might not have been freed.
And so it was. The coffin of Batya, along with Joseph’s, traveled for 40 years in the desert along with the Jewish People and was eventually interred in the Land of Israel.
Moses probably had a lot on his mind that day. But nevertheless, he didn’t forget his sense of appreciation and gratitude. We must make sure that we don’t forget either.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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