D’var Torah: Rabbi Leslie Gordon (Shmot)

We might expect the birth of Moses to be heralded with great fanfare. Instead, immediately following Pharaoh’s decree to kill all Hebrew boys we read: A certain man of the house of Levi stion married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months (Exodus 2:1-2).

“Beautiful” as the JPS translation is rendered, is not entirely accurate. And “beautiful” confuses the narrative: After all, what mother does not think her baby is beautiful? Are we to suppose that if this baby were not pleasing to look at his mother would not have sought to save him from Pharaoh’s decree?

We do better to translate literally: the mother saw that he was good: Tov. When we read the verse, טוב כי אתו ותרא “She saw that he was good,” we can’t help but hear echoes of Creation, when day after day, G. saw that what had just been created was good טוב כי אלוהים וירא.

This nameless boy born to an anonymous mother is our greatest teacher, the leader who would shepherd us to freedom. As Nahum Sarna comments, “this parallel (“saw that it/he was good”) suggests that the birth of Moses is intended to be understood as the dawn of a new creative era.”

Yocheved saw in her newborn, not yet named Moses something more than beauty: she saw the goodness in his creation, his potential to change the world. There is no fanfare or proclamation of greatness or even noble lineage at his birth. Like countless babies born to generations of parents, this humble, nameless child is good because even in a time of terror and suffering, a new life means the potential for salvation. This baby is not distinguished by miraculous powers. His mother sees that he is good, he is part of creation, he evinces a spark of the divine. It is no more and no less than what we all see in the birth of our children. Famous or the product of a certain man and his wife—all our children bring the goodness of hope for a better tomorrow.

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