By Rabbi Aron Tendler
G-dly Intentions Vs Human Action
Destiny is a complex formula that balances G-d's intentions against man's
actions. The scope of G-d's intentions are timeless and all encompassing
while man's actions are contained by the limits of time and circumstance. G-
d's intentions are executed in a planned and focused manner, while man's
actions are reactive and often misguided. G-d's full intentions will be
realized at the end of time while man's actions are primarily responsible for
delaying that end. This is the meaning of the verse in Lecha Dodi, "The end
result is as He originally intended." In the end, regardless of what the
human race did, does, and will do, G-d's original intent in creating a world
filled with free willed humans, will be realized. The story of Moshe's birth
and upbringing is a classic example of destiny's formula.
According to the Talmud (Sotah 12a), the birth of the Jewish Redeemer and his
eventual demise through "water" (Hitting the rock to bring forth water, rather
than speaking to it) had been foretold by the royal astrologers of Pharaoh's
court. This resulted in Pharaoh decreeing that all male newborns were to be
drowned in the Nile River, hoping that the Redeemer would also be killed.
Pharaoh killed tens of thousands in order to destroy the one.
This terrible decree followed an earlier attempt on Pharaoh's part to
enlist the Jewish midwives in a conspiracy to kill the male newborns at birth.
The two midwives, Shifra and Pooah, were reputed to have been Yocheved and
Miriam, mother and sister of Moshe. (Sotah 11b). It was partially because the
midwives refused to participate in Pharaoh's conspiracy, that G-d rewarded
them with being the purveyors of both the Redeemer's birth and Pharaoh's
eventual demise. It is interesting to note that had Pharaoh been more direct
and started with the royal decree of, "drown all male children" rather than
attempting to enlist the help of the midwives, Yocheved and Miriam might not
have had the opportunity to merit Moshe's birth.
One year before Moshe was to be born, Moshe's father Amram divorced his wife
Yocheved. Because Amram and Yocheved were the two leading Jewish
personalities, the Jews followed their lead and divorced their spouses. This
was done in response to Pharaoh's decree to "drown all male children". The
Talmud (Sotah 12b) explains Amram's reasoning. "Are we to labor at having and
raising children for nothing"? He therefore divorced his wife in hope of
guaranteeing that no other male children would be born.
Miriam, their 5 year old daughter, disagreed with her father's reasoning.
"Dad, your decree is more severe than Pharaoh's! Pharaoh only decreed against
the male newborn, your decree extends to all children, both male and female!
Pharaoh's decree is only against souls living in this world, but at least
the child is born, is killed, and his soul goes directly to the World to Come;
but your decree guarantees that souls won't even have a chance of attaining
the World to Come!
Being that Pharaoh is an evil man, there is no guarantee that G-d will
allow his decree to be fulfilled; but you father are a Tzadik, and Hashem
always fulfills the decrees of His Tzadikim!
The Talmud concludes that Amram listened to Miriam's arguments and
remarried Yocheved. Once Amram remarried his wife, the rest of the Jews also
remarried their wives and resumed having children. It was a result of Amram's
and Yocheved's second marriage that Moshe, the redeemer, was conceived and
The Medresh (Ber. Rab. 1:2) relates that Yocheved's giving birth to Moshe had
already been prophesied by Miriam. (The Talmud in Sotah (11b) offers this as
another explanation as to why Miriam was called Pooah). Upon Moshe's birth,
Amram kissed Miriam and said, "your prophecy has been fulfilled"! Upon
Moshe's being placed in the Nile river, Yocheved tapped Miriam on the head in
reprimand and said, And what will now be with your prophecy"?
Because Miriam had been reprimanded, she positioned herself by the edge of
the river to see what would be the outcome of her prophecy.
The relationship between prophecy and destiny is very complex. On the one
hand, prophecy tells us the "end result." On the other
hand, it does not explain the steps that we must take to bring about its
outcome. If we simply do nothing, the prophecy will be delayed until the
necessary actions are taken that create the setting where the prophecy can be
The mere fact that Miriam had prophesied that the redeemer would be born from
her mother did not guarantee that Moshe would be born when Moshe was born. If
Amram and Yocheved had not remarried, as per Miriam's argument, Moshe would
not have been born. His birth might have had to wait another generation and
he would have been the son of Miriam, or Aharon, and the grandson of Yocheved.
If that had been the case, redemption would have been delayed with far less
Jews to save! As it was we are told that only 1/5 of the Jews were redeemed
from Egypt, and even that was just in the nick of time!
After Amram and Yocheved remarried and Moshe was born, Moshe's life was still
in grave danger. Pharaoh's astrologers still sensed the impending birth of the
Jewish Redeemer. Therefore, Pharaoh was still drowning newborn males in his
attempt to snuff out the Redeemer's young life. Amram and Yocheved put Moshe
into the Nile and the astrologers then informed Pharaoh that the Redeemer had
been born and that he had been "put" into the Nile. (Ber.Rab. 1:21). The
decree was abolished, Moshe was thought to be dead and was therefore safe from
Pharaoh. However, Miriam's prophecy was still not guaranteed.
What would have happened if the basket had tipped over and Moshe would have
drowned? What would have happened if some Egyptian peasant would have found
the abandoned child and turned him in to the authorities as an obvious Jewish
child? (he had a Bris Milah). What would have happened if after Pharaoh's
daughter had found Moshe, Miriam had not been there to recommend Yocheved as
the abandoned child's hired nursemaid? What would have happened if Yocheved
had not reprimanded Miriam, and she would not have taken responsibility for
its fulfillment? There were still numerous risks and potential impediments to
the timely realization of Moshe's becoming the Redeemer.
Instead, Yocheved reprimanded Miriam who then positioned herself so that she
could watch over her brother and the fulfillment of her prophecy. Because of
Yocheved's reprimand, Miriam was in the position to offer help to the daughter
of Pharaoh and reunite Moshe with his own mother. Because Yocheved was to
remain a part of Moshe's early upbringing, she, along with Basyah the daughter
of Pharaoh, were able to infuse Moshe with an understanding of his unique
circumstances and position. They were able to help him understand the
responsibilities of becoming the promised Redeemer.
Many are the thought of man, but G-d's intentions are everlasting. (Psalms
33:10) The enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt and the story of Moshe's
birth, upbringing, and eventual selection as the Redeemer, is the story of our
survival throughout history. Further study of both the Chumash and the Talmud
reveals layer upon layer of G-d's constant protection in concert with the
actions of humans. In the end, history is a record of the accomplishment of G-
d's loving intentions. This was true in Egypt and it has remained true
throughout the millennium. Our responsibility is to study Chumash, Talmud,
and history in search of G-d's revealed presence.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.