The story of Moshe’s rescue from among the reeds at the bank of the river is well known and needs no elaboration. There is, however, one detail that is enigmatic and superficially doesn’t make sense. After Yocheved put Moshe into a wicker basket and placed it among the reeds, Pharoah’s daughter, Batyah, accompanied by her entourage of maidservants went down to bathe by the River. When she saw the basket among the reeds, the Torah relates “vatishlach et amatah vatikachehah” (2:5).The simple understanding of the word amatah — is a maid, so that the pasuk means she sent her slavewoman to retrieve the basket.

Rashi says that our Rabbis also expounded that the word “amatah” — means “her arm.” Since the word “amah” also means “cubit,” a standard unit of length that represents the distance from the elbow to the fingertips, “amah” can also mean “arm.”

Hence, when she saw the basket, she extended her arm to retrieve it, and miraculously her forearm became lengthened by many amot — cubits — to enable it to reach the basket and draw it out of the river.

Now the first interpretation is easily understandable. When a princess seeks to retrieve something that is not in her immediate reach, she appropriately sends one of her attendants. But what sense does it make to stretch out one’s hand to retrieve something far away?

One of the great Chassidic masters Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1787-1859) commented homiletically that this episode is related in the Torah to teach a lesson of cardinal importance: namely, never should one assume a task is impossible. One should never be daunted by a challenge and back out. Batyah was far from the basket. She realized, however, that a child’s life was in jeopardy and that swift action was necessary. She didn’t stop to calculate whether she could succeed or not, and she didn’t give up because the situation seemed hopeless. She reached out for the basket — and Hashem enabled her to attain her goal.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, you are now starting out as an adult in Jewish life, and there will be many challenges confronting you. It may be in education, such as understanding a piece of Gemara, a difficult Tosafot or a Ma’amar of Chassidut. In later life it may be in marriage, business encounters with the world at large, or with challenges pertaining to performance of mitzvot. Many challenges will seem difficult and, at times, insurmountable. Never give up! Remember, if Hashem presented you with the challenge, He also provides the means to prevail. Always do your utmost and Hashem will bless you with success.


A person is known by different names. A person has the name given him by his parents. Then there are the names his relatives and other people call him. Finally, there are names that he himself acquired in commemoration of a certain deed or accomplishment (see Midrash Tanchuma, Vayakheil).

According to the Gemara and Midrash, Moshe Rabbeinu had many names (see Megillah 13a, Sotah 12a) fitting into these three categories.

His mother named him Yekutiel (יקותיא-ל), from the root kavei (קוה), meaning “hope,” because she had hope and trust in G‑d that He would return Moses to her. Alternatively, she gave him the name because she foresaw that Moses would be the Jewish nation’s great hope (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot #166). People also called him by this name because kivu keil — in his days “they looked with hope toward Hashem.” She also called him “Tov” which means good, to indicate that he was born circumcised.

Of all his names the only one mentioned explicitly in the Torah is the name Moshe, which was given by Pharoah’s daughter Batyah, as the pasuk says “And she called his name Moshe,” as she said, ‘for I drew him from the water’” (2:10).

(Ibn Ezra — Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra 1092-1167 — opines that she actually gave him the Egyptian name Monios which means that he was drawn from the water, and Moshe is the Hebrew translation of that word, or perhaps, since the Jewish people in Egypt spoke Hebrew, she studied it and mastered the language and thus she named him Moshe.)

When Batyah found Moshe she was in a dilemma, since he refused the Egyptian wet-nurses. Upon the advice of Miriam she engaged a Jewish women to nurse him. Unbeknown to her, the Jewish nurse she hired was actually his mother — Yocheved. She took him to her home and returned him to Batyah when he was weaned. Obviously, during all this time his mother referred to him as “Yekutiel.” When she wanted his attention she called him “Yekutiel” and when she sung him a lullaby she undoubtedly sang about “Yekutiel.” True, Batyah was not aware of his true identity and called him “Moshe”; however, since Moshe was aware of his true name, why did he adopt the name Batyah gave him, dropping the name his mother had given him? As long as he was with Batyah, in the king’s palace, in deference to Batyah, he kept the name “Moshe,” but why afterwards?

Indeed, he was well aware that his original name was not “Moshe.” However, he retained the name so as not to forget the one who had acted toward him with great kindness. Whenever he was addressed as “Moshe,” it would remind him of being drawn from the water by Batyah, the daughter of Pharoah, and he would thank her in his heart. Wanting to always remember and always be indebted to the person who did him a favor and saved his life, he therefore kept the name “Moshe,” rather than any other name, including the name “Yekutiel.”

With this explanation we can perhaps explain another difficulty in regard to Moshe’s name.

Why is he called “Moshe Rabbeinu,” while the Rambam (Maimonides) is known as “Rabbeinu Moshe”?

The words “Moshe Rabbeinu” (משה רבינו) have the numerical value of 613, since he gave us the Torah which consists of 613 mitzvot. Also “Rabbeinu Moshe” adds up to 613 because in his monumental work known as Mishnah Torah, he expounded all of the 613 mitzvot. But why are their respective titles reversed?

According to the above we may say that the term Rabbeinu follows the word “Moshe” to indicate that the name “Moshe” is Rabbeinu — our teacher — it teaches a lesson to humanity on hakarat hatov, the recognition of kindness and gratitude.

On the other hand, the Rambam is renowned for his scholarly works through which he educated many generations of Jews. Therefore, he is affectionately known as “Rabbeinu Moshe” — “Our teacher, Moshe Ben Maimon,” similar to a teacher in our school system who is known as Rabbi so and so or Moreh so and so.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, our parshah offers you a general lesson of hakarat hatov to appreciate and acknowledge with thanks people’s kindness towards you. However, in particular, you should always thank Hashem for granting you your wonderful parents and grandparents who instilled in you a love for Torah and who have raised you in a remarkable atmosphere of chassidut. There may be many ways to show them your appreciation and express your profuse thanks. The thanks they will cherish the most is striving to give them an abundance of Yiddish and Chassidish nachas all the days of your life.


The Magen Avraham (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 225) writes that it is a mitzvah for a person to make a seudah — festive meal — on the day his son reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah, similar to a meal made on the day of the chupah. The Bar Mitzvah meal is considered a seudat mitzvah if made on the day of the birthday. The Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria [1510-1573]) in his commentary Yam Shel Shlomo on tractate Bava Kamma ch. 7 #37, rules that if the seudah is not made exactly on the day of Bar Mitzvah, it is nevertheless considered a seudat mitzvah if the boy delivers a Torah talk.

Thus, it is customary in Yeshivah circles for a Bar Mitzvah boy to deliver a pilpul — scholarly Talmudic dissertation — at the seudah celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. Chabad custom is that he says (in addition to a pilpul — see Igrot Kodesh #17 p. 230) a chassidic maamar — discourse.

In all circles, the subject matter is usually connected to the mitzvah of tefillin which officially commences at the time of the Bar Mitzvah. Often the speakers at the event also elaborate on the mitzvah of tefillin, particularly when it is discussed or alluded to in the parshah of the week.

A cursory look at this week’s Torah reading — Parshat Shemot — does not seem to have a connection to tefillin. However, the Zohar (Tikkunei Zohar, p. 144b, Mosad Harav Kook edition) points to an amazing connection.

While Moshe Rabbeinu was shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep, he came across a fascinating scene. A thornbush was engulfed in flame, and was not being consumed by the fire. As he approached closer, he heard a G‑dly voice calling him, and a dialogue ensued. During the conversation Moshe was told that he was chosen to be the messenger to redeem the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage.

Moshe then asked Hashem, “By what name shall I tell the people You appeared to me and appointed me Your emissary?” The Divine response was “Ehekeh asher Ehekeh” — “I shall be as I shall be” (א-ה-י-ה אשר א-ה-י-ה) (3:1-15).

The Zohar says that by telling Moshe this Name that was unknown he therefore, Hashem was hinting to him about the mitzvah of tefillin that is done on the hand and the head. Each contains four parshiot — portions of Torah. In the four portions the infallible Name of Hashem (י-ה-ו-ה) is mentioned 21 times. The name Ehekeh (א-ה-י-ה) has the numerical value of 21. The repeat of the Name twice alludes to the fact that in each of the tefillin, the one for the hand and the one for the head, Hashem’s Name is mentioned 21 times.

While this sounds fascinating and intriguing it is also enigmatic. What is the connection of this to tefillin, and what message is being imparted?

Many interpretations have been offered to explain Hashem’s response to Moshe’s question about Hashem’s Name. Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman [1194-1270]) in his commentary Ramban on Torah writes that Hashem told him “The way you are with Me, that is the way I reciprocate and conduct Myself with you. When you open your hands and give Tzedakah, I will reciprocate and open My hand, as the pasuk says ‘yiftach Hashem lecha et otzaro hatov’ — ‘G‑d will open for you His good treasure’” (Devarim 25:12).

Tefillin is one of the most fundamental and loftiest mitzvot of the Torah. Donning them on the arm adjacent to the heart — the seat of emotions — and on the head — the seat of human intellect — emphasizes the concept of leshabeid haleiv v’hamo’ach — that one must make his heart and brain subservient to Him (see Orach Chaim 25:5, Tanya, ch. 41).

Thus, it could be said that the 21 mentions of Hashem’s name in both the tefillin of the hand and the tefillin of the head allude to the concept of the Divine attribute of Eheke asher Eheke. Conversely, the hand tefillin represents eheke — the individual’s dedication, commitment and attachment to Hashem, and the head tefillin represent Hashem’s reciprocity, the fulfillment of His pledge and promise of asher Eheke — that “accordingly I will bestow upon you My blessings in the fullest measure.”

My dear Bar Mitzvah, now that you started putting on tefillin, and will indeed continue throughout your life, may you continuously go from strength to strength in your serving Hashem with your heart and mind and commensurately merit Hashem’s blessing for the ultimate in material spiritual success.