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Bithiah, Pharoah and baby Moshe


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Dear Rabbi, I was wondering if you are able to shed light on the following question i had. When Bithiah brought baby Moshe into the place, are we informed where Pharoah thought the child came from? I am assuming he did not think it was her actual son. Also, did Pharoah ever suspect the child might be Jewish?
We are told that Pharaoh’s daughter (!), realizes that the baby Moshe is a Hebrew, probably because she found him in the water (where a Jewish boy was meant to be), a fact that may have been hidden from her father. He may have also been dressed in Hebrew garb, which also could have been easily changed when she brought him home. Additionally, she may have noticed the infant’s Semitic background because his skin was probably light-brown, rather than the common black or dark-brown of the ancient Egyptians, so his lineage should have been apparent. Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for a Yemenite Jew to be very dark brown and many babies don’t have hair, so maybe her father didn’t realize the baby’s genetic background. Similarly, it’s written that he was returned from the Hebrews to Pharaoh’s daughter only when he grew up (2, 10), so maybe Pharaoh thought he was a slave-boy, without realizing that his infancy was “illegal”. Although it’s difficult to identify which midrashim are meant to be taken literally as historically accurate, we find there several allusions which may also help answer your questions. Shmot Rabba 1, 20, explains at his birth, “and she (his mother) saw that he was good”, that he was born circumcised (which isn’t as uncommon as it may sound) and others explain it to mean that Moshe had a certain glow or was particularly cute. The former midrash may explain how he might have passed (in Pharaoh’s eyes) as an Egyptian, for his circumcision looked natural with no Jewish/human intervention. The latter midrash may explain another midrash which states that Pharaoh enjoyed playing, kissing and hugging Moshe, for he looked special. The midrash adds there that Pharaoh’s daughter would not take Moshe outside of the king’s palace, which may have enabled them to keep this cute “mascot” secret and away from common knowledge. On the other hand, I do not recall any allusion or even hint in the Torah to Pharaoh having any previous acquaintance with Moshe before Moshe’s return at the age of 83. In short, we don’t know for sure, and there are several possibilities.
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