Exodus Assignment #2
In the Birth Legend of Sargon, an Akkadian legend, is described the origin of Sargon, a great king. His mother was a high priestess who, perhaps due to societal restrictions on her reproductive activity, was forced to give birth to him in secret and set him in a basket of reeds on the Euphrates. He was drawn up from the river by Aqqi, drawer of water, whose identity is not explored any further. Aqqi adopts the child, who then grows up to be a great and mighty king. This story bears some obvious similarities to the origin of Moshe Rabbeinu; most immediately, that both were placed in reed baskets on rivers and adopted by someone who lifted them out. However, Moshe's birth was kept secret due to prosecution of his people, while Sargon's was kept secret due to his mother's high status. The key element is that both were people who began as unknowns in a foreign culture, who both grew up to be powerful and important (though Moshe became a leader of his birth nation, while Sargon took over and subjugated many other peoples). The presence in the Torah of Moshe's birth story, therefore, gives a sense of Moshe's triumph over an adverse childhood, becoming great despite having been removed from his original cultural framework at birth. Moshe was raised in a palace, and Sargon grew up working in an orchard, which seems much more innocuous and mundane until you consider that some sort of goddess called Ishtar was in love with him during that time; perhaps there is, then, a parallel between Moshe's royal upbringing and Sargon's divine love affair. Both grew up under auspicious circumstances, though their origin in a basket on a river would have suggested a more insignificant fate for both. We can understand Moshe's character as one who found his true calling as leader of his own people in spite of his growing up in a foreign palace- in a sense, he chose the correct side regardless of having been exposed so heavily to the wrong one.
1. According to the Malbim, Pharaoh's daughter was able to figure out that Moshe was a Hebrew by studying him. The word "VaTir'ehu" ("and she saw him") is grammatically redundant, considering that the words "Et HaYeled" ("the child") follow immediately. Malbim explains that there were two levels of sight that she experienced while looking at baby Moshe: one in which she was able to interpret his internal composition well enough to understand that he was a child of exceptional spiritual stature, and another on which she was able to see simply that he was a healthy, physically sturdy baby. Based on her ability to see that he was a special child, the Malbim explains that the root word "Chamol" is used here (as opposed to the other words for mercy, "Chusah" and "Rachamim") because it refers to a mercy originating from a recognition of the worth of the object of mercy, more so than from the moral composure of the one showing the mercy. The Malbim closes by explaining that she then reasoned that such a special child could only have been abandoned unwillingly, and she concluded that he must be a Hebrew child placed in a desperate ploy to save his life from the Pharaoh's edict.
2 & 3. In the Malbim's interpretation, Moshe grew up in the palace of Pharaoh until the incident in which he killed a Mitzri man. He knew that the name "Moshe" was a reference to his origin, having been drawn from the river by Pharaoh's daughter. It was with this reminder and Hashem's supervision that he was able to remember that he was originally from the Hebrew nation. It was also known among the Hebrews in general that Moshe, the boy growing up in Pharaoh's house, was one of them. I find that this raises the question of why Pharaoh was willing to have Moshe raised in his house, a question which Malbim doesn't address beyond saying that it had a lot to do with Hashem's special supervision.
4 & 5. Moshe's willingness to go out to his brothers, according to the Malbim, is a product of his especially morally upstanding character. Most people who manage to break the shackles of their societal status and rise to greatness, as Moshe had in being raised a prince despite his Hebrew origin, would seek to have nothing to do with their destitute brethren. Moshe was not like this, and it was a show of the positive traits through which he deserved his eventual role as leader of the Hebrews that he was willing to go out among his people and acknowledge their suffering, even commiserating. The Malbim also takes note of the fact that, in spite of his upbringing among the Egyptians, he still identified as a Hebrew and saw the Egyptians as foreigners, as the pasuk states that he saw "an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew from among his brothers". His anger was aroused, because he viewed the situation as an inferior Egyptian striking a valuable, respectable Hebrew, his brother; this is the opposite of the social norm he should have learned from growing up Egyptian. When Moshe goes out a second time, the Malbim points out that even though the first time ended badly and he placed himself in danger by killing the Egyptian, he was still dedicated to commiserating with and understanding the plight of his brethren. We also learn about Moshe's zealotry and passion for justice when he berates the "rasha" for lifting a hand against his fellow. The Malbim claims that the qualities Moshe shows in these encounters are the same ones that made him such an effective national leader later on, making these episodes significant for an understanding of Moshe's character.