Drash on Parashat Shemot
Rabbi Benjamin Meijer Verbrugge
United Indonesian Jewish Community
The River of Death Becomes a Place a Protection
Whenever I recite a blessing to my wife on Shabbat, I remember what I learned Rabbi David Kunin during his visits to Indonesia in 2016 and 2018. Rabbi Kunin discussed the heroines of this Torah portion: Yocheved, Miriam, and the two midwives Shifra and Puah. There is an unnamed heroine: Pharoah's daughter. The sages gave her the name Batya which means "Daughter of G-d." All of them saved the Israelites from extinction and reminds us of all that women have done to keep the Jewish people going.
Yes, Jewish women are heroines. Women should be given more room not only in Jewish home life, but also in synagogue activities. This is an idea that wasn't originally popular in our Jewish communities in Indonesia. I decided to bring Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky to Indonesia to be the model for our Jewish community women. I am very touched to have seen very active Indonesian Jewish female leaders who have become heroines across Indonesia including in Jakarta, Ambon and Papua. They have taken public roles such as cantor and Torah and haftarah reading in the Jakarta community and community leader in Papua.
The following is an inspiring event from Parashat Shemot, teaching how Yocheved and Batya saved the Israelites from extinction and how God turned the Nile from a place of death for baby boys into a place of refuge for Moshe:
Pharoah's astrologers predicted that the saviour sent by God would die in the water, they commanded that “every new-born boy be thrown into the Nile." However, after Yocheved courageously placed her baby Moshe in the Nile, the astrologers stopped their warning. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12b). I see Yocheved making the above decision in a pinch, worried that there was no better option. However, even in desperate circumstances, Yocheved still did her best to find ways to keep the baby who was "thrown" into the water safe, so that the basket would reach other kind-hearted people who might save the baby. The Nile originally meant death for the Jewish boys, but God made this river a refuge for Moshe.
Yocheved stepped up to face danger rather than running from it. I believe each of us has a responsibility to save the Jewish people in today's world. We are agents of change for the destiny of our nation. All of us can be an example of a good leader in our homes, communities and nations.
You may feel that you aren't called to step up because you are not ordained rabbis or a Jewish leader. Maybe you believe it is not up to you to stand up. But antisemitism today is stronger than ever, and each of us needs to be courageous. If God chooses you, never be afraid to enter the Nile to face the source of fear. Face your enemy, follow God's directions, and you will find your helper people who support you in the Nile.
We can all learn from Yocheved. Her simple action still made a big impact even if she was feeling weak, fearful and panicked at the time. God was always on her side. Men too often fail by not listening to what women have to say.
Pharaoh's daughter, who is unnamed, is an unanswered mystery. The existence and sustainability of the Jewish nation is an amazing adventure filled with miracles. The Jews of Egypt were threatened with extermination plan, but help came in an unlikely way, from someone who was hardly counted, who had no name, but has power. Through her, in the midst of an enemy family, the baby Hebrew Moshe got was cared for and received the best education that prepared him to be a leader who would bring his people back to the promised land.
This historical repetition continues to this day God also chooses people from nations or families who hate Jews to stand up for the Jews just as Pharoah's daughter did. There is always a way for the Jews to exist and survive. Jewish tradition believes about the tzadikkim in every era. Not all of them are Jews.