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Why did Jochebed put Moses in the Nile?

Why did Jochebed put Moses in the Nile?

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Question:

What was Jochebed's reason for putting Baby Moses in a basket and placing him in the Nile? It would seem that by doing so she was sentencing the baby to certain death?

Was her intention for someone to find the basket and take care of Moses?

Answer:

As the verse doesn't state what Jochebed's intentions were, the matter is open to speculation. The explanation you suggest is certainly a possibility. Doing nothing would have condemned Moses to death at the hands of the Egyptian death squads. Perhaps Jochebed was hoping that Moses would be found by a merciful Egyptian, and thus spared from death. Stationing Miriam close by would then allow her to see where Moses would end up, and hopefully allow her to initiate contact with her son at some later time.

The Biblical commentator Ibn Ezra suggests two reasons for placing Moses in the Nile: 1) If her son was meant to die, at the very least she wouldn't have to witness the unbearably painful scene of his execution (for a similar occurrence, see Genesis 21:15-16: "And [Hagar] cast the child under one of the bushes, and she went and sat down from afar, at about the distance of two bowshots, for she said, 'Let me not see the child's death.'") 2) Perhaps, Ibn Ezra postulates, Miriam prophetically informed her mother that this was the correct course of action for the moment.

The Talmud1 explains that Pharaoh originally decreed that the Jewish boys be cast into the river because his astrologers had predicted that water would be the catalyst for the "downfall" of the savior of the Jews.2 Based on this, the Midrash3 explains that Moses' mother -- who was aware of her son's special destiny -- hoped that as soon as Moses would be placed in the water, the astrologers would see that the savior of the Jews had already been "cast" into the water and the decree against the Jewish boys would be annulled, and she would be free to bring her son back home. This indeed is what happened but at that point it was too late; Pharaoh's daughter had already found Moses.

I hope that I've been helpful today.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

Sotah 12b.

2.

This prediction was indeed realized when Moses was prevented from leading the Jews into the Land of Israel because of the episode which involved waters -- see Numbers 20:1-13.

3.

Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 1:21.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (1)
August 26, 2012
Possible simple explanation.
Hebrew scripture can be minimalist in its telling of the stories, and I've wondered about this and many other stories. Could it be the answer is much simpler? Maybe the basket was just a handy hiding place when the death squads came. Jochebed could have put Moses in the basket, hidden among the reeds, till the soldiers left, with Miriam keeping watch. She could have done this many times, but this time things didn't go as expected. This doesn't remove the other meanings you've suggested, since the Bible seems full of stories that are simultaneously literal and metaphor. Interesting site, and thanks for the thoughts.
Robert
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