Shiur #05-06: Vayikra Rabba 1:3 – "AKA Moshe Rabbeinu”

  • Dr. Moshe Simon-Shoshan

 

            As we noted in the previous lecture, Vayikra Rabba 1:3 is, in fact, a continuation of the petichta that began in 1:2. However, the section opens with a discussion of a new topic, and this section is, in many ways, an independent unit.  It is devoted to the explication of two verses from Chronicles, as well as to enumerating and discussing the many names of Moshe Rabbeinu and their significance.  Finally, this passage is an ode to Bitya daughter of Pharaoh, the woman who saved Moshe from certain death and who laid the groundwork for the Jewish people’s redemption from Egypt.

 

I. General Statement of Method

 

One of the things that makes Midrash difficult to understand in a systematic manner is that the rabbis rarely stopped to reflect on their reading and interpretive practices. It is therefore most significant when we find a general methodological statement in the Midrash, such as the one that opens this section:

 

R. Simon in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi, and R. Chama the father of R. Hoshaya in the name of Rav, said: The Book of Chronicles was given only to be expounded midrashically.

 

This statement focuses on a single book of the Bible - Chronicles. The Book of Chronicles presents a particular challenge to rabbinic interpreters. It is dominated by genealogical lists that chart the relationships between scores of individuals who are mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. What possible spiritual or moral interest can such lists hold for a Jew? These rabbis respond to this challenge by arguing that, indeed, these texts were not meant to be read as a simple historical document. Rather, they were meant to be read only midrashically.  As we shall see from the interpretations suggested later in this passage, this refers specifically to a method of reading in which the numerous unfamiliar names in Chronicles are understood not as references to obscure historical figures, but rather as alternate designations for some of the leading figures in Biblical history. Each alias reflects different aspects of its bearer’s personality and, as such, offers us insight into these great personalities.

 

II. Interpretation of I Chronicles 4:18

 

The midrash now turns to a particular verse in Chronicles and sets out to explicate it.

 

And his wife Ha-yehudiya bore Yered the father of Gedor (Avi Gedor), and Chever the father of Sokho, and Yekutiel the father of Zanoach – and these are the sons of Bitya the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered took. (I Chronicles 4:18)

 

As is often the case, Chazal have selected a verse that is particularly difficult to understand even on the basic peshat level. Chapter 4 of I Chronicles presents the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, starting with Judah’s sons. This genealogy is quite difficult to follow. It is often hard to tell the relationship between the individuals mentioned, and it seems to be made up of a series of unconnected units, each independently detailing the descendants of a different prominent member of the tribe.  The verse in question is perhaps the most difficult in the entire chapter.  The verse opens by introducing his wife, the yehudiya.  It is not at all clear whose wife this is, nor why she is identified merely as yehudiya, a designation which presumably indicates either that she is a Jewess, or that she is member of the tribe of Judah. The second part of the verse lists three prominent men who appear to be this yehudiya’s sons. But then the verse concludes by stating that these very same men were the sons of Mered (one of the individuals listed in the previous verse) and Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh.  How can these men be the sons both of a certain “Jewish” wife and of the daughter of Pharaoh?!

 

Using grammatical or literary tools, there does not seem to be any simple resolution of this problem of double maternity (see Rashi and Radak’s efforts to interpret this verse).  From a midrashic perspective, the first step in understanding this verse is to attempt to link the obscure individuals mentioned with known characters and events from elsewhere in the Bible.  The only name that is even vaguely familiar in the verse is Bat Par’o, the daughter of Pharaoh. Of course, over the course of the centuries, the kings of Egypt had many, many daughters. In the Bible, however, there are only two individuals who bear this appellation. The first is the Bat Par’o who saved Moshe from the Nile and raised him in her father’s house. The other is the Bat Par’o who King Solomon took as a wife. The Midrash could have identified the Bat Par’o in Chronicles with Solomon’s wife and then have proceeded to interpret the verse on this basis. This indeed would have made sense, as this passage in Chronicles deals with the generations of the tribe of Judah.  The Midrash, however, chooses the first Bat Par’o, the princess who saved Moshe and made him a prince of Egypt. Perhaps this is because Pharaoh’s daughter in our verse is named Bitya, which means “daughter of God,” and this suggests that she is a positive figure. Solomon’s Bat Par’o, who is associated with the great king’s corruption in his old age, could hardly merit such a name. Moshe’s Bat Par’o, on the other hand, is one of the great Biblical heroines who would deserve this august title.

 

The Midrash’s decision to identify Bitya bat Par’o of Chronicles as the Egyptian princess who took in baby Moshe also presents an opportunity to midrashically resolve the problems in the verse. This verse seemingly attributes two mothers, one at the beginning of the verse and the other at the end, to a series of individuals who are named in the middle part of the verse. The Torah does not mention any children born to Bat Par’o. However, she was the foster mother of Moshe. Moshe, like the individuals mentioned in this verse, had two mothers, his biological mother and his foster mother who saved his life and raised him as her own son (Exod. 2:10).  The Midrash proceeds to interpret each word of the verse, from beginning to end, on the basis of these assumptions:

 

1) The Jewess

'And his wife Ha-yehudiya'; that is Yocheved. 

Was she then of the tribe of Judah – was she not of the tribe of Levi?  Why then was her name called 'yehudiya'? 

Because she brought Jews (Yehudim) into the world. 

 

If the mother at the end of the verse refers to Bat Par’o, Moshe’s foster mother, then the mother at the beginning of verse can be none other than Yocheved, Moshe’s natural mother. This presented the darshan with another challenge. Why would the verse refer to her as Ha-yehudiya, whose simple meaning would appear to be “of the tribe of Judah,” when Yocheved was, in fact, a Levite? In order to resolve this question, the Midrash seeks out another meaning for the term. In later Hebrew, yehudi would come to be a general term for all children of Israel, i.e., “Jews.”  But the Midrash is not satisfied. Why is Yocheved referred to as “Jewess”? This would seem to suggest something particular about her nature. The Midrash explains that Yocheved’s special title refers to the fact that Yocheved “brought Jews (Yehudim) into the world.”

 

The Midrash does not explain how it is that Yocheved did this. It assumes that the reader is familiar with the fact that Yocheved is also midrashically linked to yet another Biblical figure. According to rabbinic tradition, Shifra and Pu’a, the midwives who refused Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the male Jewish babies that they would deliver, were actually none other than Yocheved and her daughter Miriam. Under the alias of Shifra, Yocheved thus saved untold numbers of Jewish babies and earned herself yet another title, “the Jewess.” The Midrash thus celebrates not Yocheved’s biological mothering of Moshe and his illustrious siblings, but rather those babies whom she kept alive through her acts of righteousness and heroism. This idea that acts of commitment can establish more important relationships than mere bloodlines will become a central theme in this petichta.

 

The Midrash now turns to middle section of the verse:

 

2) Yered

[She] 'bore Yered'; that is Moses.  R. Hanina b. Papa and R. Simon [differed on this].

a) R. Hanina b. Papa said:  Moses is called Yered, because he brought down (horid) the Torah from [heaven] above to [earth] beneath. 

b) Another interpretation:  He is called Yered because he brought down the Shekhina (divine presence) from [heaven] above to [earth] beneath. 

c) R. Simon said: The word 'Yered' surely has the connotation of dominion, even as you say, ‘May he have dominion (ve-yerd) from sea to sea’ (Ps. 72:8), and it is also written, ‘For he had dominion (rodeh) over all the region on this side the River’ (I Kings 5:4).

 

3) Father of Gedor

R. Huna b. Acha said: Many makers of fences (goderin) arose in Israel,

and this one [Moses] was the father of them all. 

 

4) Chever

a) [Moses was so called] because he joined together (chibber) the children to their Father who is in Heaven.

b) Another interpretation:  He was called Chever because he averted

(he'evir) the visitation of punishment upon the world. 

 

5) Father of Sokho

a) Because he was father of the prophets who see (sokhim) by means of the Holy Spirit. 

b) R. Levi said: It is an Arabic word; in the Arabic tongue they call a

 prophet “sakhya.”

 

6) Yekutiel

R. Levi and R. Sima said: Because he made the children hope (mekavin) in their Father who is in Heaven.

 

7) Father of Zanoach

This is Moses, because he was the father of those who caused [Israel] to relinquish (zanach) idolatry.  This is indicated by what is written, ‘And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it with fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, etc.’ (Exod. 32:20).

 

There remains a major impediment to the idea that this verse refers to the joint progeny of Yocheved and Bat Par’o.  There was only one individual who had these two women as mothers, Moshe. Why then does the verse in Chronicles list not one, but three men? The midrash resolves this problem by assuming that all three names, as well as the titles that follow them, are in fact all aliases for Moshe. Assigning all of these names to Moshe does more than resolve a syntactic problem of the verse. Each of these names is interpreted by the rabbis as referring to one (or more) of Moshe’s unique qualities and accomplishments. A drab genealogical list, buried in the back of the Bible, is thus transformed into a panegyric, celebrating one of the greatest and most prominent of Biblical figures. The names tell of how Moshe, the father of the prophets (Avi Sokho) and the great ruler of the Jewish people (Yered), forged a permanent link between God and His people: He brought God and his Torah down from heaven (Yered) and made Israel seek out a connection with God (Chever, Yekutiel). He legislated rules that would keep Israel away from sin (Avi Gedor) and led them away from idolatry (Avi Zanoach).

 

The Midrash now arrives at the final section of the verse, which, we have argued, inspired the rabbis’ reading of the entire verse:

 

8) Bitya

‘And these are the sons of Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh: R. Joshua of Sikhnin said in the name of R. Levi: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Bitya the daughter of Pharaoh: 'Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son; you, too, though you are not My daughter, yet I will call My daughter,' even as it is said, 'These are the sons of Bitya,' i.e. Bat Y-a (the daughter of God).

 

The midrash takes for granted that the reader understands that Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh, is none other than the daughter of Pharaoh who rescued Moshe. The Midrash moves on to draw our attention to another facet of this verse. Just as, in the midrashic reading, this verse presents Moshe as having two mothers, Yocheved and Bitya, so too, it also presents Bitya as having two fathers: Pharaoh and God (Bitya means “daughter of God”). The midrash sees a causal relationship between the two. Bitya was not Moshe’s literal, genealogical mother. Nevertheless, she took the responsibility for Moshe as if he were her son and indeed called him her son. As a reward for her kindness God called her His daughter, even though she is really not the daughter of God.

 

The midrash’s assertion that God is not really Bitya’s father can be understood in one of two ways. Either it simply refers to the fact that Judaism rejects the notion that God has any children of flesh and blood. Hence, the term “son/daughter of God” is always used in figurative manner. Alternatively, this line may recall the fact that, even in a figurative sense, usually it is only the Children of Israel whom God refers to as his “children.” Bitya, who comes from the seed of the Pharaohs and not of Avraham, does not even qualify as God’s metaphorical child. Nevertheless, God commits to take responsibility for her just as she did for Moses.

 

Finally, the Midrash focuses on the last three words of the verse:

 

9) Mered

'Whom Mered took,' Mered, that is Kalev. R. Abba b. Kahana and R. Judah b. Simon [differed].

a) One of them said: Because he rebelled (marad) against the counsel of the spies, and she [i.e. Pharaoh's daughter], too, rebelled against the counsel of her father.  Let, therefore, him who rebelled come and take in marriage her who rebelled. 

b) The other said: Because he [Kalev] delivered the sheep and she [i.e. the daughter of Pharaoh] delivered the shepherd.

 

In order to understand how it is that the Midrash comes to identify Mered with Kalev, we must consider the entire passage in which the Chronicles verse appears. What follows is my own literal translation, meant to convey the difficulty of these verses:

 

15. And the children of Kalev son of Yefuneh: Iru, Eila and Na’am.

And the children of Eila, and Kenaz.

16. And the children of Yehallelel: Zif and Zifa, Tirya and Asarel.

17. And the son of Ezra: Yeter and Mered, and Efer and Yalon.

And she conceived Miriam (or perhaps: “And Miriam conceived”).[*]

And Shammai and Yishbach, father of Eshtemo’a.

18. And his wife Ha-yehudiya bore: Yered the father of Gedor, and Chever the father of Sokho, and Yekutiel the father of Zanoach –

and these are the sons of Bitya the daughter of Pharaoh, whom Mered took.

 

Each of the first three verses in this passage present a list of children of a particular individual: Kalev, Yehallelel and Ezra. The relationship between these three individuals remains unclear. Only the first person mentioned, Kalev son of Yefuneh, is known to us from the Torah and the Prophets as a significant historical figure.

 

This passage also contains several other irregularities, in addition to the problem of the double maternity in verse 18. In verse 17 the text mysteriously states, “va-taher et Miriam,” which could mean either “and she conceived Miriam” or possibly “And Miriam conceived.” One way or another, it is not clear who is the father in this act of conception. The logical choice would be Yalon, who is mentioned just before this clause.

 

Finally, we must note that at the end of the entire section, the verse focuses on Mered and his marriage to Bitya.  Mered, who was previously listed as the second of Ezra’s four sons, is suddenly given a special status as one of the most prominent individuals in the entire passage.

 

How does our Midrash decode this difficult and obscure passage? Once again, the rabbis here seek out names that are familiar to them from elsewhere in the Bible. In this case, the focus is on “Miriam.” They assume that this Miriam is none other than the Miriam of the Torah, the sister of Moshe. In this view, the Chronicles passage contains references to all three of the women who were central to Moshe’s birth and rescue from Pharaoh’s decree: Yocheved, Miriam and Bitya.  The rabbis apparently understand this verse to mean “and Miriam conceived.” As we have said, Miriam’s partner in parenthood is unclear in this verse. However, according to an independent Midrashic tradition based on yet another verse in Chronicles, Miriam was married to none other than Kalev, the primary figure in our passage! (See Bavli Sota 11b and Rashi there.)  This means that Kalev remains a central figure in the passage beyond the first verse. It is now just a small midrashic step for the rabbis to identify Kalev with Mered, who is the other dominant figure in the passage. Now the entire passage is about Kalev/Mered and his family, especially the children of his two great wives, Bitya and Miriam.

 

For the Midrash, the key link here is between Bitya and Kalev.  According to the Midrash, the two were not simply married, they were perfectly matched to each other. The midrash lists two different ways in which the actions of one of them both paralleled and complemented the other’s. First, picking up on Kalev’s alias “Mered,” which means “revolt,” the Midrash describes how Kalev rebelled against the consensus of his fellow spies, and declared that, with God’s help, the Children of Israel could, in fact, conquer the Land of Israel.  So too, Bitya rebelled against her father’s command to kill all of the Israelite males and saved Moshe.  Next, the midrash portrays the couple not as rebels but as saviors. Kalev saved the Children of Israel from complete destruction by opposing the other spies, whereas Bitya saved the leader of Israel from certain death. Through their deeds at critical moments in Jewish history, both Bitya and Kalev stood up against Israel’s enemies, be they internal or external, thereby ensuring the survival of the people and its leadership.

 

The idea that Bitya married Kalev has another implication, which though it is not stated explicitly, is central to understanding this entire passage: If Bitya married Kalev, that means that Bitya, an Egyptian aristocrat by birth, must have converted to Judaism. This establishes the unity of sections 2 and 3 of Parasha 1 of Vayikra Rabba. Section 2, which was the subject of last week’s lecture, is a celebration of converts to Judaism. Section 3, our current topic, is a celebration of one of the most influential converts in Jewish history: Bitya, the savior and foster mother of Moshe.

 

We can now see how some of the central themes of this section are in fact related to the issues of converts and conversion. We have seen how the Midrash has developed two different notions of parenthood. First, there is biological parenthood. The Book of Chronicles, with its extensive genealogies, might be seen as a paean to biological parenthood and its importance to Judaism and Jewish history. At the very beginning of its discussion of the verse from Chronicles, the Midrash focuses on the figure of Yocheved, Moshe’s biological mother. We learn, however, that Yocheved had another name, Ha-yehudiya. This name calls attention to another act of mothering that Yocheved performed. In her capacity as one of the midwives to the Israelites in Egypt, she saved the lives of untold numbers of Israelite boys for whom Pharaoh had decreed death. This suggests another model of parenthood, one in which the link between parent and child is forged not by blood or genes, but by acts of selfless commitment. This type of parenthood is exemplified by Bitya, Moshe’s second mother.  Bitya did not conceive or bear Moshe; she shared no blood with Moshe, and in fact they were from two different nations. It is through he selfless acts of commitment to Moshe, which constitute a rebellion against her own father, that Bitya earned the title of mother of Moshe.

 

The relationship between born-Jews and converts is based on the same two models of parenthood. A born-Jew is a Jew by virtue of his bloodline. Converts, on the other hand, are Jews by virtue of their acts of commitment to their Father in Heaven and to the Community of Israel. The Midrash comes to teach that this latter form of the parent-child relationship is in no way inferior to the former.

 

III. The Ten Names of Moshe

 

The Midrash next returns to its other main theme, Moshe’s greatness as reflected by his multiple names:

 

Ten names were applied to Moses:

1) Yered,

2) Chever,

3) Yekutiel,

4) Father of Gedor,

5 Father of Sokho,

6) Father of Zanoach.

7) R. Judah b. Ila'i said: Also Toviah was his name.  This is indicated by what is written, ‘And when she saw him, that he was a goodly (tov) child’ (Exod. 2:2), [as if it said], 'That he was Toviah.' 

 

The Midrash proclaims that Moshe had no less than ten names.  The first six are those found in the Chronicles verse discussed above.  Name number seven is based on a midrashic reading of the text of the Torah itself.  R. Judah b. Ila’i understands the reference to Yocheved seeing that the baby Moshe was tov as in fact referring to Moshe’s original name, Toviah. This derasha also serves to fill in a gap in the story of Moshe’s infancy as it is told in Sefer Shemot. The Torah tells us that at the age of three months, Pharaoh’s daughter rescued the baby from the Nile and named him Moshe, commemorating his removal from the water. But surely this baby was also given a name by his birth parents, which the Torah fails to report. The midrash fills in this missing piece of information.

 

In doing so, the midrash brings together two themes: the multiple names possessed by Biblical characters and the problem of the different forms of parent-child relationships.  A person’s names can be divided up into two categories, which parallel the types of parental relationships. Upon birth, virtually every child receives a name from his or her biological parents. Just as a person can have only one birth mother and father, a person can also receive only one birth name. On the other hand, for various reasons one may have very little relationship with one’s birth parents over the course of one’s life. Similarly, a person’s birth name may not reflect a person’s actual personality or activities. In contrast, one can acquire other names or titles over the course of one’s life which are actually related to one’s activities and personality, just as one can acquire surrogate parents who are directly involved in one’s life. In our case it is the surrogate parent, Bitya, who bestows the new name, Moshe, which reflects the child’s life experiences.

 

The list of Moshe’s names continues:

 

8) R. Yishma’el b. Ammi said: Also Shemaya was his name. 

R. Joshua b. Nechemya came and explained the following verse: ‘And Shemaya the son of Netanel the scribe, of the Levites, wrote them in the presence of the king, and the princes, and Tzadok the priest, and Achimelekh the son of Evyatar, etc.’ (I Chronicles 24:6). 

'Shemaya,' because God heard (shama Y-a) his (Moshe's) prayer;

'the son of Netanel,' because he was a son unto whom the Torah was given from Hand to hand;

'the scribe,'  because he was the scribe of Israel;

'of the Levites,' because he was of the tribe of Levi;'

‘in the presence of the king and the princes,' before the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, and His court.

'And Tzadok': That is Aharon the priest;

'and Achimelekh,' because he [viz. Aharon] was the brother of (achi) the king (melekh). 

'The son of Evyatar,' because through him the Holy One, blessed be He, showed forbearance (vitter) over the episode of the Golden Calf.

 

9) R. Tanchuma said in the name of R. Joshua b. Korcha: Also 'Levi' was his [viz. Moses'] name, after the progenitor of his family, as it is said, ‘Is not Aharon your brother, the Levi’? (Exod. 4:14). 

 

R. Yishma’el b. Ammi states that Moshe’s eighth name is Shemaya. In order to prove this assertion, the Midrash embarks of an explication of yet another verse from I Chronicles (24:6). Once again, the Midrash identifies an otherwise unknown individual, Shemaya the scribe, with Moshe. However, this reading is far more problematic than that of the previous Chronicles verse. In the previous verse, the literal meaning of verse and those preceding it was so difficult to ascertain that the rabbis had wide latitude to interpret the verse as describing Moshe and his family. In this verse, however, the simple meaning is fairly clear. The verse is part of a description of the organization of the priesthood into twenty four sub-groupings during the reign of King David. Read in context, the verse cannot possibly refer to the time of Moshe. Furthermore, the midrash goes on to identify the “king” referred to in the verse with God, and “Tzadok the priest” with Aharon. According to the context, the king is undoubtedly King David. Similarly Tzadok was a leading priest in the time of David whom we know about from the book of Samuel. 

 

However, one of the most basic midrashic strategies is to interpret a verse divorced from its immediate context and to establish a new interpretive context based on associations stimulated by the verse. When read in isolation, this verse tells of an otherwise unknown scribe who writes something down before a king.  For the rabbis, any mention of a king brings God to mind. Furthermore, a description of a scribe writing down something before God almost inevitably suggests the image of Moshe writing down the Torah at God’s dictation.  Given this new context for the verse, there can be no doubt that the priest in question is none other than Aharon.

 

The midrash finds in this verse three new names for Moshe: Shemaya, ben Netanel, and Ha-sofer. It also presents no less than three aliases for Aharon. Each of these names recalls yet another accomplishment or attribute of these two great brothers. As before, the listing of alternative names for an individual becomes a mode for celebrating his multifaceted nature.

 

Finally, we come to the conclusion both of the list of the names of Moshe and of the petichta as a whole. After establishing that “Levi” is also a name of Moshe, the Midrash turns back to Moshe’s primary name, “Moshe,” to complete the list of ten names. The implicit question here is: If Moshe had so many names, why is it that God invariably addressed him as “Moshe,” as in the parasha verse: “And God called unto Moshe”?  We might expect, at least sometimes, for him to be referred to as “Toviah,” the name he was given at birth. The Midrash concludes that God chose the name Moshe as a way of honoring Bitya and her deeds:

 

10) Together with “Moses” these make ten names. 

Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses: 'As you live, out of all the names applied to you, I shall call you by just that name which Bitya, the daughter of Pharaoh, has called you': She called his name Moses (Exod. 2:10), [so too,]

The Lord Called unto Moses (Lev. 1:1).

 

The petichta thus ends with its focus on Bitya. In this passage, Bitya represents relationships that are forged by actions and commitments rather than those held together by a shared bloodline. Unlike Yocheved, Bitya was not biologically related to Moshe. She established her link to the greatest of prophets by heroically saving him from death and by raising him as her own child. In using the name “Moshe,” God is honoring this relationship of commitment over biological connections.

 

Summary of Vayikra Rabba 1:2-3

 

Vayikra Rabba 1:2-3 represent a single extended unit that is held together by common concerns on all three levels of midrashic discourse: the formal-aesthetic, the interpretive, and the thematic-ideological.

 

On the formal level, this unit is a complete petichta which opens with a petichta verse and ends with the parasha verse. However, it does not follow the standard petichta format. Rather than continuing with the interpretation of the petichta verse until it leads us to the parasha verse, the explication of the petichta verse ends abruptly about one third of the way through. In section 1:3 the petichta seemingly starts over with another verse, which it follows through a lengthy explication until it finally reaches the parasha verse, Vayikra 1:1. We might thus identify Vayikra Rabba 1:2-3 as representing a sub-class of petichtaot, which we might call a “double-versed petichta.” In this variety of petichta there are, in effect, two petichta verses, one which actually opens the derasha, and the other which is introduced mid-way through and whose explication ultimately leads to the petichta verse. The introduction of a second petichta verse allows for a richer range of interpretations and thematic themes than would be possible if the petichta were centered only on a single petichta verse.

 

On the interpretative level, this petichta is most distinguished by its focus on the book of Chronicles. Section 1:3 opens with a fundamental methodological statement about the study of Chronicles. It then presents extended interpretations of two different Chronicles verses. Each of these interpretations is an example of midrashic virtuosity. Chazal take verses that would appear to be little more that technical footnotes to the history of the Jewish people and interpret them so that they refer to key historical individuals and events as well as to fundamental issues in rabbinic thought.

 

On the ideological level, the petichta develops three interwoven themes. It opens with a discussion of the status of the convert. It argues that, despite the fact that the convert does not begin his life as part of the Jewish people, he is no less a member of the nation than born Jews. Indeed, God cherishes converts like the wine offerings in the Temple.

 

The next theme is that of the differing aspects of the parent-child relationship. On the one hand, one becomes a parent by virtue of the fact that one is biologically responsible for the birth of a child.  Yet, parenting goes far beyond the child’s entry into the world. It involves life-long commitment and sacrifice from the parent to ensure that the child survives and flourishes. Though these two aspects often come together in a single set of parents, at times they are in tension with each other, such as in cases when a person’s birth parents are different from the adoptive parents who raise him. Without negating the significance of biological parenthood, the Midrash celebrates the commitment and sacrifice of those who take responsibility for children who are not their own.

 

This second theme is related to the first theme of converts to Judaism. Converts have two sets of metaphorical parents: the nation and religion into which they were born, and their adopted nation and deity, Israel and God. We might think that since converts are neither children of Israel nor of God from birth, they are inferior to those born Jews who have served the One True God from their birth. However, the midrash emphasizes that it is precisely converts, whose connection to God and to Israel is based entirely on their actions and their commitments and not the circumstances of their birth, who are particularly beloved by God.

 

These two themes are further drawn together in the figure of Bitya, daughter of Pharaoh. Bitya defines herself not through her geneological status, but through her bold decisions and actions. On the one hand, she made great sacrifices and commitments to save and raise Moshe, her adopted son. On the other hand, she was a convert, who rejected her father and his ways and became an adopted daughter of Israel and of God. 

 

The final theme, which is also central to the petichta’s interpretive agenda, is the notion that great individuals have multiple names. These names reflect the multifaceted nature and careers of the Biblical heroes. The very fact that a person can have a second name – one that is different from the name he received at birth and that reflects his actual life experience and choices - reinforces the notion that there are two distinct aspects of a person’s identity, one based on birth and the other on deeds. Similarly, the issue of multiple names can also be related to the convert. As we know, converts often adopt new names to mark their transition from their birth identity to their new chosen identity as a Jew.  Once again, this is exemplified by Bitya, who is first known only as Bat Par’o - “the daughter of Pharaoh.” It is only when her entire career is recalled in Chronicles that she acquires the name by which she will know to Jewish history:  Bitya - “the daughter of God.”

 


[*] The phrase va-taher et “X” appears nowhere else in the Bible.