Parashat Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

“…She called his name Moses, as she said, ‘For I drew him from the water.’” (Exodus 2:10)

Parashat Sh’mot opens the book of Exodus (which also is called Sh’mot in Hebrew) with the Israelites’ descent into misery and slavery.  It also introduces one of the Torah’s central characters: Moses.  The classic commentators remark on Moses’ singular merit to become the leader of the Children of Israel.  Rabbi Maurice Harris (American rabbi, writer, and teacher) focuses instead on the five women responsible for saving Moses and their collective contribution to his leadership.

Shifra and Puah, two midwives, disobey Pharoah’s orders and let the Israelite baby boys live.  Their rebellion is an act of conscience, because “The midwives feared God…” (Ex. 1:17).  This act of civil disobedience is the start of the revolution.  Yocheved, Moses’ mother, resists Pharoah’s edict by giving birth to Moses secretly (Ex. 2:2).  Miriam, Moses’ older sister, helps raise him and sets the stage for the next conspirator:  Pharoah’s daughter, who defies her own father.  She saves Moses from the Nile, knowing full well he is a Hebrew (Ex. 2:6) and raises him in Pharoah’s own house (Ex. 2:10).  Five remarkable women, without each of whom Moses never would have become Moses.

In addition to assuring Moses’ physical safety, these women model for him empathy, compassion, love, and above all, action.  They each speak truth to power through courageous deeds without thought to personal consequences.  It is no wonder, then, Moses, a prince of Egypt, responds emotionally to the sight of a kinsman being beaten and acts instinctively to protect him (Ex. 2:12).  God chooses Moses to lead the Israelites, but only after these five women prepare him.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


  1. moshe brauer says:

    Dear Dr. Ackerman:

    Souldn’t we also include Tziporah as a woman that had a great (Life Supporting) help — if not impact — on Moses’ ability to live and be a Leader, at least considering her “quite dangerous action” with Ha’SHEM concerning the circumscision of their son (the only time in his life when he was quite ‘sick,’ re: his own mistake here). It seems to me as though Great Providence was at work with the two of them meeting, marrying and the whole geshichta….She must have been instrumental later when Yisro rejoins us in the desert and is so impressed by Am Yisrael, and she was certainly (somehow, again, this time as as the ’cause’) when Moses interceded for Miriam and Aaron when they were ‘smittem…’.

  2. Just wanted to say thank you for the powerful d’var Torah and for referencing my book, Moses: A Stranger among Us. With your permission, I’d like to mention that the book is widely available online, and through my personal site at:

    Again, many thanks – I’m’ glad this part of the book spoke to the writer!

Help tell the 100-year history of the JCC Movement & JWB Jewish Chaplains Council. Share your story