Rabbi Wolfe of Zbarazh was a Chasidic master known for his eagerness to defend the poor and the victimized.

One day, he heard unpleasant sounds coming from the kitchen. Putting aside the book he was studying, he went to find out what was happening there. His wife was having a disagreement with the maid. "She broke an expensive dish," the annoyed Rebbetzin explained to him.

"It was an accident," cried the maid.

"No, she did it on purpose, to annoy me, and I'm going to deduct it from her wages," countered the Rebbetzin.

"Then I shall go to the rabbinic court," said the maid.

"Go ahead, and I'll come too!" said the Rebbetzin.

"And me too," said her husband.

"You? Why are you coming? I don't need you there."

"She does," said Rabbi Wolfe, "you are the wife of a Rebbe; she is only a poor maid. She needs me to defend her."

A Name-Check

One of the greatest enigmas in the Bible concerns the name of its most oft-mentioned character, Moses.

"Moses" was not his given name…The name Moses is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture. Yet "Moses" was not his given name… Among all of the heavyweights mentioned in the Bible, Moses' name stands out due to its unusual origins.

"Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe by the river… She saw a basket among the reeds… She opened it and saw a boy crying…and he was a son to her. She called his name Moses, as she said, 'For I drew him from the water.'"1

It turns out that the name the Torah elected to call its key player was the one given him by Pharaoh's daughter!


It's not as if his parents neglected to name him. The Midrash2 records four names he was given at birth, one by each of his family members. One of these names was Tuvyah, which means good, for "She [his mother] saw that he was good."3

So what possessed the Torah to ignore the name given him by his pious parents at birth, using instead the name given him by a stranger?

This question intensifies according to the mystical teaching that one's name is not just utilitarian and random, but is inherently intertwined with the make-up of the name-bearer's soul and destiny.

If that's the case, doesn't the name Tuvyah – which means goodness – encapsulate Moses' essence and lifetime more than the name Moses, which commemorates but a single (albeit lifesaving) episode in his life?

Sacrificial Choices

Moses had it made.

He was the people's prince and was headed towards a bright political futureHe was being groomed for nobility and honor. His every whim was tended to, and he was pampered with all sorts of luxuries. He was adored by all of Egypt, having been recognized as a brilliant young man who possessed vision and courage. He was the people's prince and was headed towards a bright political future.

But he never quite got there, or at least he took a different route.

Incident #1:

"It happened in those days that Moses grew up and went out to his brethren and saw their burdens…"4

According to our Sages,5 the day of Moses' fateful stroll was the day he was made responsible over Pharaoh's entire household. After being doted upon and sheltered his entire life, on that day, for the first time, he ventured outside the cushioned palace environment he was accustomed to into the real world, where injustice flourished and suffering was rampant.

"And he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man."

For the first time in his young life he came face-to-face with an oppressor and a victim, and he had to choose between them.

To side with a member of the lowest caste against a "fellow" member of the all-highest would not be seen positively back at the palace, nor by the commoners on the street. More than just committing career-suicide, or even more, forfeiting a life of opulence, by acting against an Egyptian overseer on behalf of a Hebrew slave, Moses was endangering his life!

Yet he didn't think twice, but "struck the Egyptian down and hid him in the sand."

This was how his first day outside the palace ended.

Incident #2:

"He went out the next day, and behold! Two Hebrew men were fighting."6

Moses could have left them to their fightingMoses could have left them to their fighting. After all, the murder of an innocent man was not at stake this time; it was merely some Israelite in-fighting. And yet, he didn't think twice but "said to the wicked one, 'Why would you strike your fellow?'"

This deed would cost him dearly.

"Who made you a man, a ruler, and a judge over us?" replied the Hebrew he had rebuked. "Are you saying that you are going to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?" Moses was frightened, and he thought, "Indeed, the matter has become known."

His fears would prove to be well founded. "Pharaoh heard about this matter and sought to kill Moses; so Moses fled from before Pharaoh and settled in the land of Midian. He sat at the well."

This was how his second day outside the palace ended.

A few days later would be much the same.

Incident #3:

"The minister of Midian had seven daughters; they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father's sheep. The shepherds came out and drove them away [for their family had been excommunicated by the Midianites]."7

Now, the voice of logic, coupled with instincts of self-preservation, might well have argued against getting involved in this bout of local politics, especially if that involvement would align him with a family of social outcasts, yet that didn't stop Moses from standing up for those being wronged.

"Moses got up and saved them, and watered their sheep."

A pattern emerges.

So much must have happened in young Moses' life until this point, and yet the Torah, being a work of instruction rather than history, saw fit to record only these pitifully few incidents.

Mind you, it can be argued that all three incidents are irrelevant to the story. For the story to be cohesive, all we need to know is that Pharaoh sought to kill Moses and that Moses got away. The question of why Pharaoh sought to kill Moses8 is nothing but gossip.

Precisely these events capture the spirit of MosesIn truth, however, it can be said that precisely these events capture the spirit of Moses. For each of three episodes outlined are in reality just different expressions of the same characteristic.

Moses identified with the victim, the disadvantaged, the oppressed. At the risk of his own comfort and even his life, he never stood idly by as someone was being hurt.

In each of the documented incidents, the faces of the persecutor and the persecuted may have changed, but Moses did not. He always took the side of the sufferer.

This pattern is illustrated even more clearly by the next occurrence in Moses' life which the Torah chose to record:

"Moses was grazing the sheep of his father-in-law… He saw a burning bush that wasn't being consumed… G‑d said, 'I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt…and now, go, and I will send you to Pharaoh and you shall take my people out of Egypt!'"

To go back to the land where he was wanted for murder?

To confront and rebel against his step-grandfather, Pharaoh, the man who treated him like a son, and brought him up with love?

To embrace and redeem the people who turned him in to the authorities, facilitating his stint on death row?

Besides, hadn't his life finally settled? He'd recently married, had a kid, gotten a job; life was good, so why spoil it?

Because a people was being oppressed in the land of Egypt.

The name Moses now seems to fit him like a gloveThe name Moses now seems to fit him like a glove, for it points to the very beginning of this pattern.

"Pharaoh's daughter went down to bathe by the river… She saw a basket among the reeds… She opened it and saw a boy crying. She took pity on him and said, 'This is one of the Hebrew boys,'…and he was a son to her."

When the princess of Egypt first laid on eyes on little Moses, he was quite literally a basket-case. But he was also a Hebrew slave-child, whom her father had decreed should be drowned.

Taking the child in would thus be very risky. Keeping his identity secret would be nearly impossible, especially with all of the palace chitchat.

Yet she didn't hesitate to extend herself towards the victim-child of a victim-people, and "drew him out of the water."9

How fitting a name for Moses,10 who would grow to do the same for others.11

Based on Sichos Kodesh 5740 vol. 1 pp. 784-788.