We read in Parashat Shemot of Moshe’s unlikely rescue from the river as an infant by none other than the princess of Egypt, Pharaoh’s daughter, who discovered the basket in which Moshe’s mother had hid him. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the baby, whom she named Moshe “ki min ha-mayim meshitihu” – “because I drew him from the water” (2:10).
Many writers and darshanim have raised the question as to why Moshe received a name which commemorates a seemingly tangential aspect of his extraordinary life. Even if we recognize the value in giving Moshe a name that commemorates his miraculous survival as an infant, we might still wonder why the specific act of the princess “drawing” him from the water deserves to be memorialized. Why is this particular element of Moshe’s story so significant that it was worthy of being celebrated through his name?
It has been suggested that indeed, Moshe’s life was very much about “drawing from the river,” transcending natural trends and tendencies and charting a different course. As an infant, when he was drawn from the river, he was, in essence, drawn away from the dreadful fate that otherwise awaited him. The “current” of the time would have brought him to an early death, but he was “drawn” away to survival. As a young man in Pharaoh’s palace, he found himself in a “current” that led to royalty, but he drew himself away to empathize with the plight of the Hebrew slaves. Once God appointed Moshe leader of Benei Yisrael, he led the process of extricating the nation from the “current” of perpetual slavery. Moshe then brought us the Torah, which teaches us of the need to draw ourselves out of the “current” of our natural drives and instincts, to proactively direct our lives towards the higher, sublime goal of serving our Creator. Torah life, to a large extent, is about transcending human impulse and exerting control over ourselves and our behavior, rather than passively floating along the “current” of our inclinations.
Thus, the theme of “meshitihu” indeed features very prominently in Moshe’s life, and in his message. His life story and mission teach us to conduct our lives with direction and purpose, to have the courage to oppose evil trends, and to have faith in God’s ability to reverse any “current” which threatens to lead us the wrong way.