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The Power of the Name Moshe

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Midrash relates that Moshe, our teacher, had numerous names reflecting his lofty character traits and great accomplishments. One of his names was “Yered”, which means to bring down, reflecting his accomplishment of bringing the Torah down on Mount Sinai. Another of his names was “Tuvia”, derived from the Hebrew word ‘”tov” or goodness, reflecting his good, refined character.

Nonetheless, as we know, the name that God chose to use in reference to Moshe is “Moshe.” According to the simple text of the Torah, this name was not given to him by his parents or God, but rather by Pharaoh’s daughter. “She named him Moses, and she said, ‘For I drew him from the water’.” (Exodus 2:10) Why would God choose to refer to him using the name given by Pharaoh’s daughter? What is more perplexing is that this name refers to Pharaoh’s daughter’s actions and not to his own character or accomplishments.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, of blessed memory, explains that God chose the name given by Pharaoh’s daughter because she imbued Moshe with an attribute very dear to God. Pharaoh’s daughter performed an act of tremendous self-sacrifice in saving a Jewish baby. She defied the King’s decree and literally risked her life. Pharaoh’s daughter’s act of greatness brings to mind the many righteous individuals who risked their lives to save Jews in the Holocaust. This great act of Pharaoh’s daughter made a tremendous impression on Moses. He, too, absorbed the conviction to risk his own well-being to achieve justice and to assist others.

This trait was the hallmark of the leadership of Moshe, our teacher. When he left the palace and witnessed injustice, he sacrificed all royal privileges and risked his life for justice. Throughout his life, he was absolutely selfless in defending the Jewish people, to the point where he states: “And if not (if you do not save them) erase me from your book (the Torah).” In using the name Moshe, given by Pharaoh’s daughter, God is teaching us the degree to which He values a person willing to put him/herself on the line for justice and for the sake of others.