The Targum1 on the verse2 “and she placed him in the rushes on the edge of the river,” explains that Yocheved placed the basket containing Moshe on the shore of the Nile, rather than in the river itself. Later in the portion of Shmos , however, we read that Pharaoh’s daughter “called him Moshe, for ‘I drew him from the water.’ ”3

How are we to reconcile the explanation of the Targum that the basket was placed on the shore, with the princess’s statement that Moshe was found in the river?

The Rogatchover Gaon explains4 that since the Egyptians regarded the Nile as a god, Yocheved was unable to save Moshe by placing him in the river, for one is forbidden5 to use an object of idolatry even to save a life. Yocheved therefore placed her son on the shore. But once Pharaoh’s daughter “went down to cleanse herself in the Nile”6 — which our Sages7 interpret to mean “to cleanse herself from her father’s idols” — she thereby nullified the idol, “and the basket was able to come within the river.”

The Midrash8 explains that Moshe’s being cast into the river also nullified the decree that “every male that is born is to be cast into the river.”9

Since all matters in Torah are precise, it is to be understood that the nullification of the idolatry and the nullification of the decree are both bound up with Moshe, the Redeemer of Israel.

What is the connection?

Pharaoh’s decree that “every male that is born is to be cast into the Nile,” the deity of Egypt, was intended to “drown” the Jewish people in the idolatry of Egypt.10

The Egyptians deified the Nile because it was the natural source of their subsistence. For Egypt11 lacks rain, and so the growth of crops, etc., depends on the Nile overflowing and irrigating the fields.

It was because of this that the Nile was the deity of Egypt.12 For when one depends on rain, all lift their eyes up to Heaven”13 — one readily feels how one’s existence depends on G‑d. But when a river irrigates the land, one is not so aware of dependence on the A-mighty

Pharaoh’s intent in casting the Jewish people into the Nile was that Jews as well should — Heaven forfend — bind themselves to the forces of nature.

This decree could only have an effect on the Jewish people after their descent into Egypt. As long as they were in Eretz Yisrael, a land where one sees and feels how G‑d’s Providence is responsible for even the most minute detail, it is impossible to fall into Pharaoh’s trap.

Moreover, as long as there were some Jews who remembered life in Eretz Yisrael, the nation was incapable of making a god out of nature.

It was only after “Yosef, his brothers, and that entire generation died,”14 and there was no one left who had lived in Eretz Yisrael,15 that the “descent” into Egypt was complete, and Pharaoh’s decree could take hold.

Moshe was the one who saved the Jews from this decree, for he caused even those who had no knowledge of G‑dliness as seen in Eretz Yisrael to acquire a belief in G‑d that permeated their every deed and action; they became cognizant of G‑dliness in all the “natural” things they did.

The nullification of the deity of the Nile and the nullification of the decree are thus related, for the decree to “cast into the Nile is connected to the fact that the Nile was the Egyptian deity.

Moshe’s very birth gave the Jewish people the strength to do battle with idolatry. As a matter of course, the decree was nullified as well.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, pp. 13-17.