A Leader is Born

Exodus 2:1-25

Despite the order to kill all Hebrew male infants, a couple from the tribe of Levi gives birth to a baby boy. The mother hides her son for as long as she can — three months — before placing him in a waterproof basket on the riverbank among the reeds. The child’s sister watches after her young brother, and when the baby is discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh, she offers to find her a wet-nurse for him. As the Israel Bible mentions, these humble beginnings produce the greatest teacher the Children of Israel have ever known. Moses is even noted by the Torah as the most humble person (Numbers 12:3).


According to a tradition based on the verse in 1 Chronicles 4:18, Pharaoh’s daughter’s name was Batya, which means daughter of God. She is recognized for her righteousness in saving Moses’s life.


Young Moses is named and raised by the daughter of Pharaoh in the Egyptian palace. The Torah recounts his adventures as he reaches adulthood.


Three episodes are described in which Moses comes to the aid of those less fortunate than himself. While in the first incident, the Torah does not describe the reaction of the recipient’s of Moses’s help, in the second incident, the people were ungrateful for Moses’s intervention, and threaten to turn him into Pharaoh. Moses is forced to flee Egypt, after which he has another opportunity to help others. In this case, his aid is greatly appreciated. In this new land, he finds a wife and starts a family.


While Moses is settling into his life in exile, the Torah relates the degree of the Israelites’ suffering. God observes their oppression and decides the time has come to release them from their bondage.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

  • Many movies about the life of Moses portray his shock at discovering he is a Hebrew. Is this supported by the text? Do you think others in Egypt knew his true identity? How might this affect his ability later to lead the people out of Egypt?

Comments ( 19 )

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  • Enzo

    Nice philosophy! Moshe was not allowed in the Land of Israel to make us think about it and ask ourselves: Why? The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, the Torah doesn't come in, that's what the Torah tells about ….. Shalom

  • Katharine Flanders

    When you string all Moshe’s Hebrew names together (Yered, Chever, Yekusiel, Avigdor, Avi Sochi, Avi Zonoiach, Tuvia, Shmaya, ben Nesanel, HaSofer) you get a sentence that reads as such: He who descended beyond the region on the other side fears/obeys G_D, Protector and Father of a nation like Noach. G_D is good; G_D heard; son of a prince, HaShem’s scribe.

    I think the names describe Moshe perfectly.

  • Shlomenu

    Moshe knew he was Hebrew.Some others knew that who 40 years after Moshe left Egypt for Midian and back,they were a testimony to B'nei Yisrael of how the new leader sacrificed royalty for all those years for his beloved Hebrews

  • Herman Arentsen

    “Family first”, one say. This means: recognize those that are nearest to you. There’s something of the soul that ‘s touched. It is comparable with a Jew coming into erretz and he says : “I’m home”. You feel it…So, not so strange Moshe felt that the Israelites are his people. Talking to his Egyptian mum he might have heard of the Nile and the commands of Pharo. Also his name was a bit ackward: Moshe which means “Son”. A Pharo was called Ra m’ses = son of ra. Why was the name not filled in whose son he was ?…. Then there was the crime of killing and he had to flee. Instinctively he sided with his relationship. Later on he profited of his training at the palace as an Egyptian prince: he knew how to lead, he knew how to speak Egyptian , he knew how to behave at the palace the minhagiem.

  • Angela B

    …. he was little, he must have been…

  • Angela B

    🙂 I love your comment SueJean. I agree with most people here that Moshe knew he was Hebrew from the time he was little, He must have been circumcised and also been told of the uniqueness of his birth, with his name clearly reminding him he was drawn from water following Pharaoh's decree. It follows therefore that the movies that portray Moshe shocked at discovering his Hebrew identity are inaccurate, it is not in line with the Biblical text.

  • SueJean Heinz

    "1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
    א וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ מִבֵּית לֵוִי וַיִּקַּח אֶת בַּת לֵוִי. 2 And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. ב וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי טוֹב הוּא וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים."
    One thing that is taught about the tribe of Levi when they lived in the land of Mitzraim was that this tribe alone stayed clear of the idolatry of the Egyptians and followed the teachings that were handed down from Avraham. This is part of the explanation of why Elohim later chooses them to be the priests. Circumcision was given to Avraham as a sign of the covenant between the seed of Avraham and Elohim.
    I find it very difficult to believe that Moshe wasn't circumcised at the age of 8 days per their custom as his mother kept him for 3 months before setting him adrift. Thus it would have been clear to anyone privy to this knowledge that he was born a Hebrew. Another thing that is noted in the Scripture was that he was a beautiful baby. Perhaps that was enough to win over the Pharaoh and as Kathy has noted the happiness that he brought was worth taking the steps to conceal the nature of his birth.
    These are just my personal considerations in this matter.
    Baruch Hashem.

  • Kathy Curry

    I would suspect that Moses was different from the others who were Egyptian. Each people has its own uniqueness. I am sure the princess and Pharaoh both knew as well but Pharaoh saw his daughter was happy so he allowed Moses to stay planning on “Egyptizing” Moses, but it did not work. At least that is my thinking.

  • Tonia

    The only way I would think Moses would know that he was a Hebrew…was that he was with his mother until he was weaned…how old that was…2-5? Perhaps his mother talked to him as he was with her and in his soul he remembered he was a Hebrew…and, of course, his features would be much different from the Egyptians…thus they knowing and he knowing he was different…a Hebrew.

  • Drew

    Why do we never hear of his Hebrew name?

    • Drew, what a great question-and one that was discussed with my family this weekend at our Shabbat table! Our sages teach us that Moses in fact had 10 names. One, for example, was ‘Tov’ (good), given to him by his mother based on the verse 2:2. However, the daughter of Pharaoh names him Moses, based on an action that she did! It does not teach us about Moses’s characteristics. However, in life, there is a concept of ‘pay it forward’. If people treat us in a certain way, we are likely to behave that way to others. If someone is kind to you, that puts you in a ‘kind’ mood, and more likely to do an act of kindness. Moses was saved by a selfless act, and we see that he inculcated this trait of selflessness. And so he is known in the pages of history as Moses.


        what are the other names of Moses making it to 10 ?
        I believe number 10 is like perfect complete.

        • Katharine

          The names are: Yered, Chever, Yekusiel, Avigdor, Avi Socho, Avi Zonoiach, Tuvia, Shmaya, Ben Nesanel, Hasofer. The answer is in Medrash Raba Vayikra 1:3. See the Medrash for reasons.

          • Katharine

            When you string Moshe’s names together, you get a name that read as such:
            He who descended beyond the region on the other side fears/obeys G_D, protector and father of a nation like Noach, G_D is good, G_D heard, son of a prince, HaShem’s scribe.
            Really does describe Moshe, doesn’t it?

  • Kenneth

    Interesting question? How did Pharaoh’s daughter explain this to her parents? Pharaoh likely knew this child was Hebrew and kept his silence to keep peace in the family. He may have tried to make Moses appear Egyptian in all things – schooling, knowledge, culture, heritage, royalty…. It does not say that Moses had been circumcised. If he was circumcised, others that he grew up with would question this. This may explain the strange incident in chapter 4:24.
    Pharaoh kept Moses’ heritage quiet, but Moses’ mother and sister instilled something in those early years that made him feel uncomfortable as he grew up in the Egyptian way of life and later he sensed not just compassion for the slaves, but a brotherhood yearning. When he went among his people, Pharaoh may have had spies following Moses to watch what this Hebrew might be considering. Once exposed he had to flee for his life. From a life of luxury, he now enters a life of isolation and consideration of life events.

    • I always find it fascinating trying to picture the life of these Biblical heroes. They were people beyond the verses-they were once babies and children before they were adults. I try to think what their day to day lives must have been like. It’s an interesting exercise trying to imagine what Moses’s youth must have been like-a Hebrew in the palace that hated the Hebrews. Thanks for your great comments!

  • Michael

    Moishe grew up with the knowledge that he was a Hebrew. Maybe only his biological mother and sister and Pharoes daughter knew his true identity.

    • Phyllis Pearson

      Yes, maybe… I wonder what the other servants of Pharoah's daughter thought though. Surely she wouldn't have chosen to care for the child of an Eygptian woman, maybe they worked out that this was a Hebrew child, perhaps his looks were different from the Eygptian children too, and maybe that's why the Hebrew people followed him as they did?

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