January 18, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1053, Parsha Thought, Shmos


Moshe, the liberator of the Jewish nation from Egyptian bondage, was in mortal danger from the time he was born. Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to throw all newborn males into the Nile. When Moshe was born, his parents hid him for three months and then placed him in a basket to float to hoped-for safety on the Nile River.

The Torah relates that after Moshe was placed in the Nile, Miriam, his “sister stood from afar, in order to know what would happen to him.”

The Talmud (Sota 13a) comments that she wanted to know how her prophecy would materialize.

The prophecy, to which the Talmud is referring, was her prediction that her mother would bear a child who would save the Jewish people. The Talmud then relates:

When Moshe was born, the entire house was filled with light. Her father arose and kissed her on her head and said to her, “My daughter, your prophecy has been fulfilled!”

However, when he was cast into the river, her father arose and hit her on her head and said to her, “My daughter, where is your prophecy?”

This is what the Torah means when it says that “she stood from afar, in order to know what would happen to him,” [which means] she wanted to know how her prophecy would materialize in the end.

The Talmudic Sages knew that Miriam was not curious about whether or not Moshe would be saved. She was a prophetess and knew with certainty that Moshe would survive to become the liberator of the Jewish people. This was never a question for her.

If that is the case, the early Chassidic master Rabbi Nochum of Chernobyl, in his work M’eor Einayim, asks why did she wait there on the banks of the Nile if she was so confident in the outcome?

To answer this question, it may be suggested, as the Talmud explains, that although she knew with certainty that Moshe would survive, Miriam did not know the logistics of precisely how and in what manner his salvation would take place.

Now Miriam, in her confidence, could have stayed home and concerned herself with other matters, knowing that everything would work out fine. However, Miriam was anxious to see it happen and also do her part in making the process unfold.


There is a beautiful lesson here for our own day and age.

The Rebbe informed us in a prophetic message that we are living in Messianic times and that the Final Redemption is imminent. Since the Rebbe revealed that powerful message to us, many dramatic changes—often positive—have occurred, but the final, true and complete Redemption has yet to have materialized. This limbo situation, as we stand on the threshold that separates exile and Redemption, can be unnerving and engender disillusionment.

To answer this challenge we must consider Miriam. She prophesied about Moshe, the first redeemer; not only that he would be born but that he would eventually liberate the Jewish people. The fact that this was revealed to her prophetically means that it was sure to happen. A prophecy for something positive must materialize; it cannot be reversed, as opposed to a negative prophecy that can be reversed if the people repent.

Miriam thus was certain of the eventual outcome. Like her, we too must be confident and certain that the Rebbe’s vision will come to fruition. We just don’t know how the process will unfold. We therefore have to stand on the banks of our own Nile and watch for how it will happen.

We can compare our situation to reading a mystery novel. Even if we read the first and last pages and know the outcome, we still have to read the book to discover how the events unfolded and lead to that climax. We are now in middle of the novel, closer to the end to be sure, but we still are in the dark about the very last events that will lead to the ultimate conclusion.


As we have seen, Miriam, notwithstanding her faith in a positive outcome, did not stay home but got directly involved in the salvation of Moshe. First as she waited to see how he would be saved and later by arranging for her mother to nurse the baby.

The lesson for us who are confident that the Redemption is imminent is, do not “stay home.” We must show our yearning and eager anticipation for the process and also be direct participants in it. To be sure, whether or not we are a part of the process that leads to Redemption, it will happen. But we want the Redemption to come because of us and not in spite of us. To that end, we must get involved in doing redemptive things in a redemptive manner by seizing every opportunity to make our world an extension of the Holy Land and by welcoming and internalizing Moshiach.


Commentators ask why the Torah states that Miriam stood and watched from afar? Some Sages have offered the explanation that she was afraid to stand too close lest she be spotted. But why was she afraid of that? Why would the Egyptians harm her just because she was standing near the Nile?

Another question can be raised, and that is why the Torah doesn’t mention her by name? All it says is that she was Moshe’s sister.

Using Midrashic license, we may take the reference to “sister” and interpret it allegorically, as is done in the Talmud and Midrash, as a metaphor for wisdom, as it says, “Say unto wisdom, ‘you are my sister’” (Mishlei 7:4).


With this additional bit of information, the verse can be rendered: “And wisdom stood from afar, in order to know what would happen to him.” Here wisdom is, paradoxically, standing afar but engaged in knowing! Wisdom is both elusive and accessible. How do we explain that paradox?

Wisdom is an indispensable part of Judaism, but it has its limitations. King Shlomo, when attempting to understand the deeper meaning of the Red Heifer ritual for the purification of one who came in contact with the dead, exclaimed: “I said, ‘I will get wisdom; but it was far from me.’” (Koheles 7:23)

King Shlomo, the wisest of all people, knew that there were things which eluded him.

In all probability Moshe should have perished in the Nile, the very body of water where all the other newborn male children were drowned. Miriam, with all her wisdom, could not fathom why Moshe was in the Nile and how he would emerge unscathed. She just knew that it would happen. If she had allowed her wisdom to analyze every aspect of this process it would have demoralized her. She therefore had to place the “sister-wisdom” component of her being in the background and witness events from afar, even as she was certain that her prophecy was accurate.

However, while she stood afar, which we now know symbolizes that she tentatively suspended her understanding, she did not suppress her intellect and understanding. The term “afar” here implies that while she had to temporarily defer her intellectual grasp of the situation until the events would unfold to make sense of them, she did try to understand the events as they happened.

This too instructs us how we should apply our understanding to the Messianic process. While we must recognize the limits of our understanding and the trans-rational nature of Moshiach and Redemption, we must not ignore our minds. Whatever aspects of Redemption that we can understand, we must make the effort to understand.

The only limits we must place on our understanding are:

a) A humble recognition that we cannot possibly fathom every aspect of the Messianic process. Logic itself concedes that there are things that transcend logic and intellect.

b) We must be patient even with those aspects of the process that we can understand; we must wait to see how the events unfold.

As they unfold, much of what we previously could not understand will become comprehensible to us.


But as we stand from afar and suspend our logic (“His sister [wisdom] stood from afar”), we must always be watching for the events to unfold and appreciate their place in the Messianic drama.

As we wait for Moshiach, we must see all of the world’s recent events, many of which have taken us by surprise, as elements of Moshiach’s impact on the world in preparation for the Final Redemption.

But that is not enough. As soon as we see an opportunity to be part of the process we must jump into action, just as Miriam did. When Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moshe and was looking for a woman to nurse him, Miriam seized the opportunity and brought her own mother to nurse her child, who just minutes earlier had been saved from an almost certain death.

What was unclear to her before as to how the prophecy would unfold now became crystal clear. Moshe not only survived his ordeal but he would be nursed by his own mother and raised in privilege by Pharaoh’s daughter in her father’s palace. Moshe would have the best of both worlds. He would be nurtured by his mother, a holy woman, who would plant the seeds of holiness and dedication to his brethren in him. He would also enjoy the benefit of being raised in Pharaoh’s place as an Egyptian Prince, providing him an excellent opportunity to use his exalted power to help his brethren and even redeem them. While Miriam still did not know how matters would conclude, many pieces of the puzzle were now coming together.

The wisdom and understanding of the events that were afar have now become near.

Similarly, as time progresses we can see and understand some of the events that point to the imminence of the Redemption, even as certain aspects remain elusive and beyond our comprehension.

In truth, this is precisely the Moshiach dynamic: to fuse the trans-rational and the rational.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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