Her Father, His Daughter

The Book of Exodus devotes only half a dozen verses to the woman who saved Moses. Then she disappears never to return.

The Book of Exodus devotes only half a dozen verses to her. Then she disappears never to return, as though Jewish history had opened its mouth and swallowed up her life and death. In honor of Passover, this entire column is devoted to her so that her goodness and mercy will not be forgotten.

The Egyptians, as we know, oppressed the Israelites, embittering their lives with hard labor. None of that helped them: The Trojan Donkey continued to be fruitful and multiplied, and the fear of the demographic threat only increased. Pay up, Pharaoh.

Ominous reports reached the desks of the decision-makers: The natural population growth among the Hebrews is huge, and should another war break out, they are liable to become another enemy of Egypt. Torture alone, as has been proved, will not solve the problem, so we must adopt harsher measures.

The head of state summoned the Hebrew midwives and gave them new instructions: Kill the boys at birth. He threatened the women, and enticed them as well: They would receive transit permits for the checkpoints, and their husbands would receive work permits in Upper Pithom and Lower Ramses. The midwives refused to be collaborators, and invented an excuse: The Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, they are like animals - they give birth anywhere, without medical supervision.

The rais had no choice but to turn directly to all his people, commanding them to throw into the Nile any newborn son who was not a proper Egyptian.

And here she entered the picture, as she went down to bathe in the Nile, accompanied by her maidservants. Suddenly she saw a basket in the reeds, and inside the basket was a little boy, crying. She immediately realized that this was a Jewish boy, defied her father, and saved a life.

She was not obligated. Most people would not have behaved as she did. After all, she would not have had to drown an infant with her own hands, she only had to turn away, not see, not understand. That's what everyone does - they turn their backs, shrug their shoulders and walk on. But she was not like everyone, she was different.

Not only did she pull him out of the water and rescue him, she hired a wet nurse. And when the child got older she took him into her home, adopted him as a son, and gave him a name.

What happened to this unique woman? The text does not tell us. Rumor is followed by rumor; where is she today?

One rumor has it that her father was very angry at her, sent her away from him, and she was pursued by a cursing mob that shouted, "Jew-lover, Jew-lover." Some testify that she fled to Rafah, and under a new identity helped children there, until one night she was run over by a bulldozer. Someone once swore to me that he saw her dressed in black, standing there with her girlfriends next to a checkpoint, observing the soldiers' behavior and recording it. There's no chance that she'll change, she's a lost cause.

If we survived Pharaoh, it is thanks to her. And if we have to survive more Pharaohs, we will do so thanks to women like her, and perhaps a few men, too.

Is it too late to declare her a "righteous Gentile"?