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She Saw That He Was Good


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

In regards to Moses the Torah says (Exodus 2:2):

"The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months."

What is the expression "He was good"? The simple meaning refers to his looks – a pretty child. And that is indeed how the Ibn Ezra translates it. However, our Sages in Sotah (12a) gave a number of other explanations:

She saw that he was good – Rabbi Meir says: his name is Good. Rabbi Yehuda says: his name is Tuvia. Rabbi Nechemia says: suitable for prophecy. Others say: he was born circumcised. Our Sages say: when Moses was born – the whole house was filled with light. For here it says: "She saw that he was good". And there (in Genesis 1) it says "G-d saw that the light was good."

According to Rabbi Meir this is Moses’ name, he was called Good. According to Rabbi Yehuda, his name is Tuvia. According to Rabbi Nechemia this is an expression which shows Moses’ prophetic ability. According to "others" this tells us he was born circumcised. And according to the Sages this tells us that when Moses was born the house was filled with light, for about light it says that "G-d saw that the light was good".

An explanation that combines the literal meaning (that he was a pretty baby) and the homiletic interpretation (which speaks about spiritual wholeness – born circumcised, prophecy, the house was full of light) is found in the Seforno. The Seforno explains that since she saw that he was an especially pretty baby, she understood that he also has a special inner wholeness.

However, there is another question to ask: "She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months". What is the connection between the two parts of the verse? Did she only decide to hide him because she saw he was good? And if he was not "good" (for example, if he was not born circumcised) would she not have hidden him?

The Rashbam (ibid.) deals with this question:

She saw that he was good and she hid him – which is explained that since she saw he was good she therefore hid him is a lie, since mothers have mercy on all their offspring. Therefore, we need to explain she saw like "And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good". He looked and examined all His deeds and actions to see if there was anything that needed repair, and behold all were good and proper. So too here, Moses was born at the end of six months as we find by Samuel who was born in the period of two periods and two days. Therefore, she was able to hide him for three months since the Egyptians would visit pregnant women at the end of nine months. Therefore she looked at him when he was born; if he was stillborn she would not have bothered to hide him. She saw that he was good and pretty since he was fully formed, with hair and nails, as we find in Yevamot, and she knew he would survive so she hid him for three months until the end of nine months which is the time most women give birth. And when the Egyptians came to check on her she either said he was stillborn or that the Egyptians had already thrown him into the Nile.

The Rashbam says that it is not possible to say that she hid him because she saw he was good, since every mother has mercy on her child. Therefore, the Rashbam explains that she hid him as he was born in the seventh month of pregnancy, so she had the ability to hide him without the Egyptians coming to look for him. And even though he was born in the seventh month of pregnancy, he had hair and nails, and so she knew he would live (she knew he was "good", whole and ready).

Nachmanides (ibid.) has a different explanation.

His explanation is that she saw in him renewed goodness and thought that a miracle would happen to him and he would be saved. Therefore she sought a solution concerning him. When she saw that she could no longer hide him she thought of how to save him with a different ruse and she made a wicker basket for him. And his sister stood afar so she could not be seen and would be able to report on what happened to him. And all of this supports the words of our Rabbis who explained "he was good" as the whole house was filled with light (Sotah 12a), and their explanation that Miriam would prophesize that her mother was destined to give birth to a boy who would save Israel (ibid.):

According to Nachmanides his mother did indeed see that he was especially good "renewed good", and according to our Sages, the house was filled with light. Therefore, she thought that she could save him despite the tremendous difficulty involved.

Nachmanides words have a tremendous novelty – we all saw Yocheved’s actions: hiding the child, building an ark. From where did Yocheved draw strength to perform these actions? Why did she specifically perform these actions as opposed to others?

According to the Rashbam there is a technical reason: Moses was born early and therefore it was possible to hide him. According to Nachmanides there is a fundamental reason: she saw that her son is good and possesses unique strengths. She saw the amazing light which filled the whole house following his birth. This gave her the strength to make an effort and save him in an extraordinary way.

From this we can all learn a basic rule in education: "She saw that he was good". At all times we need to have the understanding of seeing the special good in our children. Seeing the special light that each child adds to the house. It is true that, at times it may be difficult, indeed very difficult. However, seeing the good and the light in our children, gives us added strengths which enable us to care for them and the house in the best possible way.

Let us look at others and ourselves in a good way; let us look at the tremendous strengths that G-d has granted us. Let us see the good – which inevitably imbues us and others with strength.
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