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Who performed the greater deed? Was it Batya, who risked her own life to save baby Moses, or Miriam, who merely watched the events unfold?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The week’s Torah portion is “Shemot” (Exodus 1:1-6:1), and in it we read about the birth of Moses and his grooming to leadership. Moses was born at the time when Pharaoh had decreed that all newborn Jewish boys be drowned in the Nile.

Moses’ parents decided to put him in a basket and let him flow down the Nile, and leave “fate” to decide what would be with him.

Well, as we know, Moses was saved by none other than Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, the Hitler of the day. Batya realized full well that her father was a madman and risked her life to save what was clearly a Jewish baby boy. She rescued him from the Nile and adopted him as her own.

Now get this: From packing Moses in the basket right to his rescue, Moses’ sister, Miriam, was watching everything unfold from the sidelines.

The sages tell us that both Miriam and Batya received rewards for their roles. Batya’s reward was that the name she gave the baby, Moses, became the name that he would be known by for all time, and not the name that his biological mother had given him, which was Tuvia. Miriam’s reward was that the Jewish people would receive fresh drinking water throughout the 40 years of wandering in the desert from a special well created in her honor.

The question is asked: Who performed the greater deed? Was it Batya, who risked her own life to save baby Moses? Or was it Miriam, who merely watched the events unfold?

While most of us would surely guess that Batya performed the greater deed, this might not necessarily be so. Indeed, the reward of “the well” is said to have been greater than the reward of the name.

What’s going on here?

It is explained that God takes not only deeds into consideration – He also takes intentions seriously. We are told that when Moses was born, the house was filled with a special light, thereby conveying to the family that this boy was going to be someone special. They knew he would make a difference for the entire Jewish people.

Thus when Miriam went on her mission, she was not merely watching to see how Moses’ life would play out, she was also watching the entire Jewish people to see how Moses would impact them. Batya, on the other hand, while her deed was tremendous, focused her concern on the welfare of only a single individual.

This explains the weight of their respective rewards. Miriam was concerned for the entire Jewish people, so her reward, the well of fresh water, was one that had an impact on the entire nation. Batya was concerned for a single individual, so her reward, naming Moses, essentially only affected Moses himself.

Make no mistake, Batya was one of the most righteous women in our history. However, the “Miriam reward” is an important lesson that teaches us that it is sometimes the thought that counts!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.




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