SHEMOS (Exodus, 1:1-6:1) — “A Helping Hand”

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to the eminent prophet Avigdor.  Oh, you’ve never heard of Avigdor?  I’m sorry, I meant Yered.  Oh, you’ve never heard of Yered either?  How about Yekusiel?  No?  How about Avi Socho?  Shemaya?  Would it help if I mentioned Tovya, the name his parents gave him when he was born?  Still haven’t heard of him?

In all, this gentleman had 10 names, none of which are used by G-d to address the greatest of all the prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu, our teacher Moses.

Moses owed his life to Bisya, the daughter of the Egyptian king.  Bisya violated her father’s edict to kill all of the newborn Jewish boys.  His astrologers had predicted the imminent birth of a extraordinary boy.  This young man was destined to eventually lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt.  The Pharaoh hoped to thwart fate by having all male babies thrown into the Nile.  Yocheved, a Hebrew midwife, gave birth to this boy, and named him Tovya.  In order to save him from certain death at the hands of the Egyptians, she set him afloat on the Nile in a basket, and hoped for a miracle.

That miracle came in the form of the Egyptian princess Bisya.  She had come to the banks of the Nile to bathe and she saw the basket. The Talmud tells us that her servants refused to disobey Egyptian law by saving the baby.  Bisya reached out her hand and her arm miraculously stretched across the river to retrieve the basket. (More about this miracle later.)

Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“Mishisiyhu” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10)

Bisya wanted to remind her adopted son that he had been pulled from the water.  Some of the commentaries observe that the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.  A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” The name “Moshe” more correctly means “one who draws.”

Bisya’s message to this young man was that he should always be aware that he was alive only because someone had saved him.  His life’s mission was to dedicate himself to being a “Moshe,” one who helps others. Therefore, when Moses saw an Egyptian trying to kill a Hebrew slave, he stepped in and saved him.  When he saw two Jews fighting, he tried to break up the fight.  He felt the pain of his fellow Jews in slavery and attempted to convince the Pharaoh to release them.  Throughout the years in the desert, when G-d was angry with the children of Israel, Moses used to plead in their behalf.


The Talmud observes that of all the names of Moses, G-d chose to address him by the name given to him by his foster mother.  Our Sages tell us that we see here how G-d rewards those who help others.  Because of Bisya’s selfless act of saving a small defenseless child, G-d, in effect, gives Bisya credit and reminds us of her kindness every time the name “Moshe” is mentioned in the Torah.  (Hundreds of times!)

Why are we here today?  We are alive as Jews today only because G-d has watched over us.  He has prevented us from joining the ranks of the millions of Jews who have assimilated and disappeared over the millennia.  It is not good enough to be a “Mashui“, one who has been saved.  Each one of us has to be a “Moshe,” one who saves others.  We must share our resources and our knowledge with our fellow Jews and help to save them as well.


Now, back to the miracle of Bisya’s stretching arm.

I was sitting in the Department of Motor Vehicles in Haverstraw, New York a few days ago.  I took a number and waited for my turn to be called to take care of some car business. While sitting there, I was looking into a Chumash (Bible) and studying this week’s Torah portion.  Someone sitting near me saw what I was reading and posed an interesting question:

Why, he asked, did Bisya stretch out her hand to get the basket?  It was in the middle of the river, out of her reach!  Why would she bother to try to reach for something that was impossible to get?  She didn’t know that G-d was going to defy nature and allow her arm to extend to several times its normal length!  What could she have been thinking?

My fellow DMV customer answered with a quote from the previous Skverrer Rebbe, the founder of the Chassidic Village of New Square, New York.  Bisya reached as far as she could.  Once G-d saw that she had made the attempt, He finished the job for her.

There is an important lesson we can learn here.  We all know people who seem to have endless energy when it comes to helping others.  Stories abound about the work of the indefatigable volunteers of Vaad Hahatzolah who worked during the Second World War to save Jews from the Nazis.  These people took upon themselves superhuman tasks and somehow found the strength to succeed.

Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that seem hopelessly unmanageable.  It looks like there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.  There are people whose problems are so complex, that we are not able to help them, and we are tempted to give up.  Don’t.

Bisya could have looked at the basket in the middle of the river, and just shrugged her shoulders.  She could have wrung her hands and said, “Isn’t that sad.  What a pity.  Too bad it’s too far away to reach.”

She could have just stood there and watched Moses and the future of Israel float away into oblivion.  But she couldn’t let herself do that.  She HAD to do something!  She stretched her hand as far as it could go, and fell far short of her goal.

G-d saw her efforts and finished the job.

The Torah is telling us to look at Bisya, and try.  Never despair.  Do what you can.  We cannot perform miracles, but we have to make the attempt.  We must do whatever we are capable of doing, and pray to G-d for help with the rest.

We are not obligated to accomplish the impossible.  We are only required to try.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


 From the Archives 

“My Grandson’s Bris – 2” (2010) 

Read More.


“My Grandson the Priest” (2009) 

… Jethro recognized that Moses was an Israelite; he proposed a match with one of his daughters.

But there was a catch…Jethro would only agree to allow Moses to marry his daughter on the condition that the oldest son would be raised to be a priest of idol worship.

Pretty amazing, no?  Want to hear something even more amazing?  Moses agreed!! …

Read More .


“Mrs. Moses: Certified Mohelet??!” (2008) 

Several years ago I was driving in the car listening to a discussion on the radio about circumcision.  Being a Mohel myself, I was, of course, very interested in the conversation.  I listened with curiosity and apprehension.

I get very uncomfortable when religious Jews call radio shows.  It is very difficult to explain a profound religious concept in a cogent and articulate manner when the host has his own ideas and can cut you off in mid-sentence.  Yet, the calls were coming in, and the host maintained that circumcision is done for health reasons.

Then an Italian lady called and said that she had her boys circumcised for health reasons, and was glad she did.  He said, “Thank you, dear,” and hung up.  Then he asked, “Hey, I wonder if a lady is allowed to be a Mohel.”

I braced myself for the responses.  A short time later, the host said, “Our next caller, from RocklandCounty, is Moysheh.  Hello, Moysheh.”

“Hello, Mr. Grant.  This is Moishe-the-Moyel from Monsey!”…

Read More.


“Mrs. Moses Goes Home to Father” (2007)

… Moses was about to get a promotion.  He was about to become the Shepherd of Israel.   G-d assigned Moses the crucial task of leading his People out of Egypt.  There was, however, a problem.  There was the matter of his pre-nuptial agreement…

At one point, Zipporah decided to pack up the boys and go home.  There are various reasons given by the Commentaries.  The Chasam Sofer suggests that all was not well in the ben-Amram family…

Moses’ wife …went home.  … She would not accompany him to Egypt…

So what changed her mind? …

Read More.


“The Secret Password” (2006)

What are the credentials of a savior of Israel? Imagine the scene:

The Sages of Israel have been summoned to a meeting. They have been enduring unspeakable horrors due to the agonizing slavery that his been placed upon them by their Egyptian taskmasters.  The meeting has been called by a fugitive, a wanted man.  Moses, the twelve-year-old son of Amram the Levite had absconded from Egypt to escape a murder conviction.  Now, as an eighty year-old man, he has returned to Egypt with an announcement…

Do we listen to Moses? Is he for real?  Is he on the level?  We haven’t seen this fellow in sixty-eight years! Suddenly he shows up with a Messianic proclamation, and he expects us to risk our skins by going to the Pharaoh with such an outrageous request!?

They bought it…

Read More.


 “Pain in the Ukraine” (2004)

… A Mohel went to the Ukraine to usher Jewish men into the Covenant of Abraham.  As a fifteen-year-old Yeshiva student lay on the table, the Mohel read his medical chart.  The boy, as it turned out, was allergic to the anesthesia that the Mohel had brought from the U.S…  The Bris would have to be delayed… No, insisted the boy.  He wanted to have his Bris!  He would not get off the table.  He was adamant.  He was already fifteen years late; he would wait no longer!…The Mohel set out to do his holy work.  There was skin tissue to cut, and wounds to suture and cauterize.  The young man just lay there and endured it all.

He tried to be stoic and motionless.  Throughout the excruciating pain, he was silent.  But finally, he could be silent no more. It was just too painful.  He let out a blood-curdling scream…

Read More.


“Watch Your Step!” (2004)

… I walked into my Bible class at one of the facilities where I am a chaplain, and presented them with a provocative question.  “How do we know,” I asked, “that G-d gave the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai?”

I wasn’t quite prepared for the response.  A little lady with a kerchief on her head — I’ll call her “Mrs. Cohen” — who almost always sat quietly through my various classes, called out, in a very German accent, “Because it says so in the Tow-raw!” (For those unfamiliar with the German pronunciation: Tow-raw — “Tow,” rhyming with “now”, and “raw,” rhyming with “saw.”)

I was frustrated.  She broke my momentum.  Sure, I thought, SHE believes that, but what about every one else?

“Yes, of course,” I continued, “it says so in the Torah.  But how do we know that the Torah’s description is actually what happened?”

“Because it says so in the Tow-raw!”

I gave up…

Read More.


“A Tale of Two Kings” (2002) 

[TORAH TALK IN THE JEWISH PRESS:  This message from 2002, updated for the 2007 political season, appeared as an Op-Ed in the Jewish Press.]

…The Egyptians were concerned about the growth of the Jewish population. The Israelites were increasing by leaps and bounds. … The Egyptian people demanded that their king address their “Jewish Problem.”

The king, who at first had demonstrated a bit of integrity, refused. He couldn’t bring himself to take action against Joseph’s people. Joseph had been so good to Egypt. The masses wouldn’t take no for an answer. They ousted the king.

Spending three months as an ex-king was more than he could bear. Thus, “a new king arose over Egypt, who didn’t know Joseph.” The “new” king with a new attitude conveniently “didn’t know,” or, at least ACTED as if he didn’t know Joseph. The persecution began…

Read More.


“Mother Goose Lied to Us!” (2002)

Moses was pained over the status of his nation.  They were persecuted and afflicted.  The Israelites weren’t just slaves who were forced to work; they were treated like animals.  Moses couldn’t understand why the Children of Israel were suffering so greatly.  He couldn’t understand why G-d had not yet taken His People out of Egypt.  Was He angry with them?…

 Read More.


“A Helping Hand” (2001)

…Bisya adopted the child and raised him in the palace.  She named him Moshe, “because I drew him (“MISHISIYHU” in Hebrew) from the water.”  (Exodus, 2:10) … the name “Moshe” seems to be grammatically incorrect.    A more accurate name would be “Mashui,” which would mean “one who is drawn.” …

Read More.


This is the weekly message at   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on January 18, 2001 at 12:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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