"For I Have Drawn Him From the Water"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"For I Have Drawn Him From the Water"

Summarized by Danny Orenbuch

Translated by Kaeren Fish


A person's name is generally meant to tell us something about the essence of his character. Moshe is bequeathed his name by Pharaoh's daughter because, in her words, "from the water I have drawn him (meshitihu)."

The Maharal offers an intriguing explanation. From an external point of view, material things seem substantial and stable, while spiritual matters seem ephemeral and "up in the air." In truth, though, the situation is exactly the reverse: spiritual matters are really fixed and unchanging, while physical, material things - despite their external appearance of permanence - transform themselves and change.

Water, by nature, represents something physical, material, unstable. It comes and goes and moves from place to place. The drawing out of Moshe from the water therefore represents the severance from the material, moving towards the spiritual. Even when Moshe is involved with material things, he is not influenced by them. Hence his ability to enter a state of prophecy at any time, as opposed to all other prophets. As the Rambam teaches (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 7:6):

"None of the prophets was able to prophesy at any time that he wished, but this was not the case concerning Moshe Rabbeinu. Any time that he wished - the holy spirit visited him ... therefore he could prophesy at any time, as it is written: 'Stand and I shall announce that which God will command you'... And we learn that all the (other) prophets, when the spirit of prophecy left them, would return to their tents and continue with their physical lives, like the rest of the nation..."

This was also the source of Moshe's unique ability to determine Halakha according to his prophecy, as opposed to the other prophets who were subject to the death penalty if they dared to innovate Halakha according to their prophecies, for "it is not in heaven."

Moshe's name, therefore, hints at his special quality: he is a person who was drawn out of the material world and given over entirely to the spiritual world. As we are taught (Shemot 4:20), "And he set them to ride upon the donkey (chamor - from the same root as 'chomer,' meaning 'material')" - in other words, Moshe "rides" upon the material; he is elevated above it and guides it.

In addition to Moshe Rabbeinu, two other individuals also merit to overcome the material. One is Avraham Avinu, who "saddled" and conquered his material emotions (the Torah teaches that he "saddled his chamor (donkey)" - see explanation above) when he set off to sacrifice his son. The other is the Mashiach who, we are told, will be "a poor man riding on a chamor." Therefore, Rashi (4:20), quoting the midrash, identifies Moshe's chamor with Avraham's and the Mashiach's. The midrash adds that this unique chamor was created on the sixth day of creation, during twilight.

The midrash does not mean that this chamor lived thousands of years, but rather that in these three figures spirituality conquers materialism - they "ride the chamor." As opposed to other revolutionaries like Marx, who based his theory on pure materialism, these figures are responsible for revolutions of pure spirit. (It is intriguing that the downfall of Communism was also based on materialistic concerns: people were dissatisfied more with their standard of living than by the lack of spirituality.) Conquest of the material world is a supernatural act; therefore, the midrash describes the chamor as being created during twilight, when all the miraculous phenomena were created.

In our lives, too, the spirit must rule over and shape the physical, just as water is given shape and confined by its container. We must, as individuals and as a nation, "draw ourselves out of the water" and "ride the chamor."

(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5753 [1992].)



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