Batia the Egyptian Enigma
by Maxine Zeltser
My talk today is about Batia, the Egyptian princess who rescued Moshe from the River Nile. I thought that this fits in with Shavuot when we read about another princess, Ruth.
Our Rabbis stated 'The Book of Ruth contains no laws regarding purity and impurity, nor laws of what is prohibited and what is permitted. Why then was it written? - in order to teach the reward of those who do deeds of kindness' Ruth gave up her life as a royal princess with all the ensuing comforts to accompany the poor impoverished Naomi. When they arrived in the Land of Israel, she insisted on gathering the grain like a common pauper to spare her mother-in-law such indignity and then agreed to marry the aged Boaz in order to perpetuate her husband's memory. It was these deeds of total selflessness on Ruth's part that merited her story being included as a part of Scripture.
I have recently been reading the Chief Rabbi's latest book, Covenant and Conversation about the book of Exodus. I was particularly moved by the chapter headed 'The light at the Heart of Darkness' which talks about the self- sacrifice of another non-jewish princess, that of Pharoah's daughter. As the Chief Rabbi states:
'She is one of the most unexpected heroes of the Hebrew Bible. Without her, Moses might not have lived. The whole story of exodus would have been different. Yet she was not an Israelite. She had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by her courage. Yet she seems to have had no doubt, experienced no misgivings, made no hesitation. If it was Pharoah who afflicted the children of Israel, it was another member of his own family who saved the decisive vestige of hope: Pharoah's daughter.'
I have read the story of Exodus many times without giving much consideration to the enormity of Pharoah's daughter's actions. Her father was determined to destroy every Hebrew boy yet when she sees the crying baby, Moses, floating on the River Nile she takes pity on him and orders her maid-servant to fetch him. She must have realised how dangerous it was for her to defy her father in this way, especially as she was with her maids at the time who could easily inform on her. Yet she does not waver and has the courage of her compassion and adopts Moses as her own son.
The First Book of Chronicles mentions a daughter of Pharoah named Bitya or Batya and it was she the sages identified as the woman who saved Moses. The name Batya means the daughter of G-d. The sages derive from this a striking message 'The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her: Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You are not my daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.' The sages comment that she was one of the few people who were so righteous that they entered paradise in their lifetime.
The Midrash said that prior to rescuing Moses, Batya had rejected the senseless cult of the Egyptians and accepted upon herself the laws of the Jewish nation. Hashem had provided that Moses should be saved by a worthy woman, a Jewish convert.
The Midrash also says that Moses in fact had many names. At birth, Amram called him Chaver and his mother called him Yekutiel. Miriam called him Yered and Aaron called him Avi Zanoach. Yet, in the Torah he is only referred to as Moshe which is the name given to him by Pharoah's daughter and even Hashem does not call him by any other name.
It seems remarkable that Moshe should not be known by the names given to him by his parents and by Miriam and Aaron, who were both prophets. Instead, he is known by the name given to him by Batya. The name Moshe means 'For I drew him from the water' which refers to Batya's great act of kindness in saving him. The name, Moshe, was retained by the Torah as a reward for Batya's kindness in saving his life. This demonstrates the great reward of those who perform chesed.
Moshe never forgot that his very existence was as a result of the self sacrifice of Batya and this trait was indelibly etched into his character. When Hashem threatened to destroy the Israelites because of the sin of the Golden Calf and to rebuild the nation from him, Moses interceded, saying 'If You do not forgive them, erase me from the book that You have written'. It was this character trait that qualified Moshe to be the leader of Israel.
The Talmud says that when a child is old enough to speak, the parents should teach him the verse, 'The Torah that Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Jacob'. Rabbi Twerski points out that we generally assume that this verse is important to impress the child with the legacy of Torah. However, Rabbi Twerski suggests that it is intended more as a reminder to the parents that it is their values that the child will adopt, just as Moses adopted the selflessness of Pharoah's daughter who brought him up.
From this we can see that Batia really was an Egyptian enigma. She was a royal princess and like Ruth was able to disregard all her royal trappings and, regardless of the risks, perform such amazing acts of kindness and selflessness.
As Shimon the Righteous said in the Ethics of our Fathers, Pirkei Avot, 'The world is based on three things: on Torah, on service of G-d and on acts of kindness.'