Harbinger of Light
“638 male babies have been thrown in to the Nile,” the Captain read from his papyrus scroll, “18 male babies have been absconded by their families to further districts, and one male baby is unaccounted for.”
“What does ‘unaccounted for’ mean?” Pharaoh asked in irritation from his throne.
“We have searched every crevice of the family’s home,” the Captain explained apologetically, “and that of their neighbors, their relatives and anyone they are in regular contact with. We have searched behind every bush and under every stone, but the baby is nowhere to be found.”
“What does the family claim?” Pharaoh demanded. “What do they say happened to the baby?”
“They claim the infant has already been thrown in to the Nile, but there is no mention of this in our records.”
“Are you sure?”
“We are certain, O Pharaoh. Our records are impeccable. Our forces have not supervised the throwing of the Amram child into the Nile.”
“Amram, you say,” Pharaoh nodded pensively. “It would have to be his child. He is the leader of the Hebrews. His child would certainly be a candidate to be the destined Redeemer. Where can he be?”
“I can answer that, Father,” a striking young woman declared as she strode into Pharaoh’s audience chamber.
“Daughter, what is the meaning of this?” Pharaoh asked in surprise and annoyance.
“I can report on the unaccounted child that you have not managed to drown yet.”
“Daughter, I know that you disapprove of our activities, however bear in mind that this is for the greater good of Egypt.”
“Pfah,” the daughter made a spitting motion, “you would slaughter innocent babes and still call yourself a hero? You put too much weight in your astrologers’ omens.”
“Daughter, beware of that tongue of yours or we can have the offensive organ removed, even from you, my precious jewel.”
“You would silence the only one who tells you the truth? You are surrounded by these sycophantic mongrels who have twisted your mind with superstition and half-truths. They will lead you and Egypt to nothing but misery.”
“Captain,” Pharaoh turned away from his daughter, “leave us, and on your way out, call for the Royal Executioner, and my advisors.”
The daughter took a step back at mention of the executioner.
“Daughter,” Pharaoh returned his gaze, “do not joust with me in such a tone, and certainly not in front of my underlings. I think perhaps a lesson in respect is in order.”
“How can I respect a cold-blooded murderer?”
“I will show you.”
Moments later the Royal Executioner walked in, followed by Pharaohs advisors, Jeinis and Jimbrei.
“Executioner. What temporary ways do you have to silence a person?” Pharaoh looked meaningfully at his daughter, “I know that tongues do not grow back, but is there something short of cutting a tongue that may teach a long-lasting lesson in etiquette to the Princess?”
“Irons, Pharaoh. Irons are the way.”
“You would close her mouth with irons? While I am tempted by the notion, I would like something less unseemly.”
“No, Pharaoh. I meant hot irons. If we poke her tongue or the inside of her mouth with hot irons, she will not talk for a while, but eventually it will heal.”
“How long will she be silent for?”
“I am not sure. The few times I tried it, the subject died from their wounds, but I would be very careful with the princess. It would take perhaps several months to heal, maybe even a year.”
“A year is very good then. Be careful her beautiful features should not be marred. And if she does not speak again in a year, Executioner, you will lose more than your tongue.”
“But, Father,” the daughter exclaimed in alarm, “I thought you would want to know about the unaccounted child?”
“Yes then. Tell me.”
“Only if you do not unleash your henchman on me.”
“That, my dear, will depend on the nature of your answer.”
“I have the baby.”
“You do? Good work. Hand him to the Executioner and we shall dispose of him presently.”
“What do you mean ‘No’?”
“I shall not hand him over. He is my son.”
“Your son? Your son!?” Pharaoh got off his throne and started shouting. “What in the name of Ra are you talking about!”
“I found him in the river. I have adopted him to be my son. By all the ancient laws, he is mine. You can not have him.”
“Have him? I do not want to have him! I want to kill him! He may be the most dangerous thing to the Egyptian empire and you are protecting him?”
“Yes. And if I could, I would protect every single one of those innocent babes who you believe are so dangerous.”
“Daughter! You go too far!!”
“No! I do not go far enough! I will never hand him over. If I could save even one child, I will have done my duty.”
“You would dare? You would dare rebel against your own father’s command? This is treason. I would not spare even you from punishment.”
“I dare. I should have done this long ago.”
“So be it. Executioner! We shall execute the Princess right here and now without delay. I cannot stand even a moment further with this rebellious child. Do it now!”
The executioner hastily grabbed the Princess and a cushioned bench and prepared her for beheading. He forced her kneel on the floor, and then firmly tied her torso to the bench leaving space for her head to hang over the side of the bench. He tied the Princess’ hands behind her back and placed a pan on the floor where her head would fall. Pharaoh paced back and forth seething in anger, yet holding back tears. The executioner then removed his sword and ran his fingernail over its edge to check its sharpness. He spread his legs and raised his sword. He lowered the sword slowly to the Princess’ neck to make sure of the angle and distance needed to make a quick clean cut. He then raised the sword again and tensed his powerful muscles, getting ready to bring it down again, strongly and rapidly.
“O Pharaoh,” Jeinis bowed down, “if I may be so bold as to interrupt.”
“Proceed Jeinis,” Pharaoh raised his hand to the executioner in a halting sign, happy for the reprieve and hoping Jeinis would provide a different solution. The executioner in the meantime slowly lowered his sword.
“From the most recent signs, it seems that the latest crisis is over,” Jeinis continued.
“What do you mean?”
“He means, O Pharaoh,” Jimbrei interjected, “that according to the stars, the Redeemer has already been thrown into the Nile.”
“Already thrown? That is a relief. Is the danger over then?”
“Um, not exactly,” Jeinis mumbled.
“Well is there danger or is there not?”
“Pharaoh knows how difficult it is to read the stars,” Jimbrei intoned. “It seems the need to throw the children into the Nile has passed. The danger from the destined Redeemer is still out there, but it is vague and hard to read. We must remain on watch.”
“But you can stop your drowning of the children?” the Princess interjected, from her tied and kneeling position by the bench.
“Yes, Princess,” Jimbrei answered reluctantly.
“Then there is no reason I cannot keep my son, Father.”
“If it will stop your incessant bickering, blasphemy and rebelliousness, I will let you keep this child – but on one further condition.”
“And what would that condition be?”
“You shall not adopt another one of the Hebrews again. This shall be your one and only child from that people. You shall not afford them protection in this fashion. And if I sense that this child is a threat in any way, it will be the executioners block for him.”
“It is agreed then. Congratulations Father, you are now a grandfather.”
“Spare me the melodrama. Release the Princess,” Pharaoh motioned to the Executioner. “Let us examine this child then.”
“Oh Father, you will love him. He is such a precious child,” the Princess chirped as the executioner untied her and helped her up.
“I shall be the judge of that.”
“I shall bring the baby,” the Princess said as she proudly strode out the hall.
Pharaoh sat back on his throne, relieved. How did I deserve such a difficult daughter? He thought to himself. Though I wish my soldiers were half as brave as she is – then the entire world would be terrified of us, he thought of her with fatherly pride.
“Is it wise to let her keep the child?” Jeinis inquired of Pharaoh.
“If it will appease my judgmental daughter; than it will be worth it.”
“If this is indeed the child of Amram,” Jimbrei added, “it could have curious ramifications.”
“Hmm. Do I want my enemies’ son in my house? If he were a hostage it would be one thing, but as an adopted child, I am less sure.”
“It is good to keep one’s friends close, Pharaoh,” Jimbrei quoted, “but it is better to keep one’s enemies closer.”
“Yes, we shall keep a close eye on the son of Amram. He may yet be of use to us.”
Pharaoh’s daughter, beaming with joy, walked back into the hall with a baby bundled in her arms.
“Here Father, is my son.”
“He, he is beautiful!” Pharaoh stuttered.
“I told you he was special.”
“What is on his skin? He seems to be shinning or glowing. Is this sorcery?”
Jeinis and Jimbrei peered at the baby as well and made various arcane hand motions.
“Get your paws away from my baby!” the Princess embraced the baby defensively.
“We do not sense any magic around the baby – he is truly an outstanding specimen,” Jimbrei concluded.
“Let me have another look at him, daughter.”
“Just move your minions back.”
“Jeinis, Jimbrei, please give the princess some space.” The advisors backed away obediently, though still peering at the child with open curiosity.
The Princess again showed Pharaoh the baby. Pharaoh drank in the sight of the baby and seemed to calm down and even enjoy looking at him. “He is truly beautiful. What is his name?”
“I have called him Moses, for from the water I drew him out.”
Moses. A chill went up Pharaoh’s spine at the mention of the name. Egypt may yet rue this day, Pharaoh thought to himself quietly. The day that we let Moses live and brought him into my house.
* * * * * *
The Egyptians were worshipers of the god Ra. In Hebrew “Ra” means evil. The name PhaRAoh, includes the name “Ra”. It could be that the source of the word “Ra” in Hebrew comes from the complete abhorrence of the Egyptian worship of this false god and their intrinsic evil. The Egyptians set the benchmark as far as the Jewish people are concerned for the concept of Evil. From class by David Nativ.
The daughter of Pharaoh went down to bathe in the river. Exodus 2:5. She went down to immerse (i.e., cleanse) herself from the idols of her father (i.e., she immersed for the sake of converting to Judaism). Tractate Sotah 12b
“This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6. How did she know? She saw that he was circumcised. Said R’ Yochanan: She prophesied unknowingly: this one alone is cast into the Nile; no others will be cast. The Egyptian sorcerers had divined that the redeemer of Israel would be punished by means of water. After Moses had been cast into the water, they no longer saw that sign, and the decree was cancelled. Tractate Sotah 12b
Said Pharaoh, “I dreamt that all of Egypt was on one pan of the balance, and a lamb was on the other, and the pan with the lamb outweighed all of Egypt.” At once he sent for all the sorcerers of Egypt and told them his dream. Jeinis and Jimbrei, the chief sorcerers, said to Pharaoh, “A male child will be born in the congregation of Israel, by whose hand the whole land of Egypt will be laid waste.” Targum Yonatan, Shemot 1:15
Amram was the head of the Sanhedrin. Shemot Rabbah 1:13
It came to pass when Pharaoh had sent the people out. Exodus 13:17. Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, “You sent out the fathers, but my sons you cast into the Nile. In retribution, I shall cast you into the sea and destroy you, but I will take your daughter and let her inherit the Garden of Eden. Shemot Rabbah 20:4
These are the sons of Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh whom Mered took. Chronicles I 4:18. Mered is Caleb. He rebelled (“mered”) against the counsel of the Spies; she rebelled against the counsel of her father. Let the rebel come and marry the rebel. And one Sage says: He saved the flock; she saved the shepherd. Vayikra Rabbah 1:3
Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Bithiah daughter of Pharaoh, “Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.” (Bithiah=Daughter of God). Vayikra Rabbah 1:3
* * * * * *
This story came out of an attempt to answer a question in my mind:
In the text, Moses’ mother is afraid that her son will be drowned in the Nile together with all the other newborn males. She makes a desperate gambit by hiding him in the Nile itself. As fate would have it, Moses is discovered by the Princess, who then returns the baby to the mother for nursing and who is subsequently returned to the Princess once he is weaned, perhaps even years later.
How could Moses have returned home without danger of being taken by Egyptian forces?
The answer in my mind is that there must have been some special dispensation with royal approval. The midrash points out that the edict was revoked after Moses had been placed in the Nile by his mother as this confused the Egyptian astrologers. However, there must have been a period of time between the hunt for Hebrew babies and the revocation of the edict. Hence the scene of the Pharaoh’s daughter attempting to protect Moses, which is also supported by the midrash.