Moshe was called ten names: Yered... Yekusiel...
Avigdor... HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Moshe, "Of all your
names, I will use the one which Basya, daughter of Pharaoh,
gave you; `...and she called his name Moshe.' " Thus it is
written, "Vayikro el Moshe -- Hashem called to Moshe."
(Midrash Rabbah Vayikro, 1:1)
The Midrash lists ten names for Moshe Rabbenu, each
signifying a unique trait he possessed. There is one name,
though, which seems to say nothing about him:
He was called Yered, descent, because he brought the Torah
down from heaven to earth. He was called Yekusiel, he who
hopes to G-d, because he brought Bnei Yisroel to place
their faith in Hashem. He was called Avigdor, father of
boundaries, because he was the greatest of all to set
boundaries for Klal Yisroel. Each name describes a
different quality of Moshe Rabbenu.
The name Moshe -- "the one pulled out" -- describes what
Basya, daughter of Pharaoh, did for him. She pulled him out
of the waters of the Nile River, when she found him there as
a crying baby. She did it, not he.
What does the name, Moshe, tell us about the greatest
leader the Jewish People ever had?
This is the beginning of Chumash
Vayikro: Hashem calls Moshe Rabbenu by name.
He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent
of Meeting, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say
to them -- When a man among you brings an offering to Hashem
. . . (Vayikro 1:1-2)
Hashem spoke to Moshe Rabbenu countless times. "Vayedaber
Hashem el Moshe leimor" is the most common verse in the
Torah. Yet, how many times did Hashem call Moshe -- by
A name is not just a name; it defines. It gives us a handle
with which to grasp the essence of something. It is not so
easy to name something. Angels cannot do it; only man can.
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu, when he created Odom Horishon,
called the angels. The angels asked Him, `What is the nature
of man?' HaKodosh Boruch Hu replied, `His wisdom is
greater than yours.'
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu then brought livestock, wild
animals, and birds before the angels. He asked them, `What do
you call them?' They did not know what to say. HaKodosh
Boruch Hu then brought these creatures before Odom
Horishon and asked him, `What do you call them?' He replied,
`This is an ox, this is a donkey, this is a horse, and this
is a camel.'
"Then HaKodosh Boruch Hu asked him, `And what is your
name?' Odom Horishon replied, `It is fitting to call me Odom,
because I was created from earth (adomoh).'
"Then HaKodosh Boruch Hu asked him, `What is My Name?'
Odom Horishon answered, `It is fitting to call You Hashem,
because You are the Master of all.' HaKodosh Boruch Hu
then said, `I am Hashem -- this is the name which Odom
Horishon called me'" (Bereishis Rabbah, 17:4).
A name is a very deep matter.
Basya, when she pulled Moshe Rabbenu out of the Nile,
demonstrated considerable mesiras nefesh. By saving
Moshe Rabbenu, she disregarded the decree of her father
Pharaoh issued a series of anti-Jewish decrees. He was
terrified of Bnei Yisroel's immense population
increase. He felt that he faced a threat to his kingdom. What
if Bnei Yisroel would, in time of war, join forces
with the enemy?
Pharaoh set out to do what he perceived to be essential to
his survival: he planned to destroy the Jewish People. He
slaughtered their children and bathed in their blood. He
tortured the multitudes of Bnei Yisroel with forced
labor, making the men sleep in the fields, away from home.
His campaign against the Jewish People culminated with the
famous decree to throw all male newborns in the Nile. The
purpose of this was that they should perish.
Basya saved a Jewish baby. This took devotion and self-
sacrifice. It was a rare act of care. She risked her life.
HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, in Sichos Mussar, writes:
"The pulling of Moshe Rabbenu from the water came about
through the mesiras nefesh of Basya -- who
transgressed her father's command, in order to save a
"Since Moshe Rabbenu was saved by an act of mesiras
nefesh, this quality of mesiras nefesh permeated
Moshe Rabbenu's body and soul. . . . Moshe Rabbenu's own
trait of mesiras nefesh came to him from the
mesiras nefesh of Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh.
"This is why the name, Moshe characterizes Moshe
Rabbenu more than any other name. . . . HaKodosh Boruch
Hu chose the name Moshe over all other names
because it represents the quality most needed by a leader of
Klal Yisroel -- mesiras nefesh for each and
every individual Jew."
Indeed, Moshe Rabbenu excelled in mesiras nefesh. The
Midrash describes how Hashem tests potential leaders of
Klal Yisroel, looking for this essential trait:
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu tested Dovid Hamelech as a
shepherd, and found him a talented shepherd. Dovid would
first bring the baby animals out to pasture, so they could
graze on the tender grass. Then he would bring out the
elderly animals, so they could graze on the ordinary grass.
Then he would bring out the youthful animals to eat the tough
grass. HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `The one who cares to
shepherd his flock according to each individual animal's
needs, he will come to shepherd My People Israel.'
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu also tested Moshe Rabbenu through
shepherding. Once, a kid escaped and ran away from the flock.
Moshe ran after it. . . . The kid found a pool of water, and
stood to drink.
"Moshe caught up with the kid, and said, `I didn't know that
you ran away because you were thirsty! Now you must be tired
out.' Moshe put the kid on his shoulder to carry it back.
"HaKodosh Boruch Hu said, `You show such compassion in
leading the flock of a human being. You will surely be the
shepherd of My flock, Israel'" (Shemos Rabbah,
Continues HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, "The shepherd and leader
of the generation must be concerned for every individual. He
must satisfy the needs of each, according to the individual's
unique capacity. This is what is written about Yehoshua: `A
man of spirit' (Bamidbar 27:18). Rashi (ad
loc.) explains that Yehoshua could discern the individual
spirit of every Jew.
"It is not enough to lead the people in a general way.
Leadership must be tailored to each Jew's nature and
abilities. Without mesiras nefesh, it is impossible
to care for each member of Klal Yisroel."
Hashem called him Moshe; the name
given by Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh. She didn't just pull
him out of the water and leave him; she raised him as her own
child. Moshe Rabbenu grew up in the royal palace of Pharaoh,
the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world. Shouldn't
such an upbringing spoil a child? Not Moshe.
Chazal say, "HaKodosh Boruch Hu does not place His
Shechina on a person, unless he is strong, wise,
wealthy, and humble" (Nedorim 38:a).
An unusual combination of qualities; says the Ksav Sofer. He
writes, "What difference does it make to Hashem if a person
is rich? Hashem does not favor the wealthy over the poor. The
same is true concerning physical strength.
"From the Maharsha's commentary, it is clear that the primary
trait -- by which a person merits prophesy -- is humility.
However, one who is impoverished is naturally humble. From
where should he derive haughtiness? Chazal considered an
arrogant pauper an intolerable fool.
"A person who possesses wealth, wisdom, and strength is in a
different situation. He has reason to be proud. He is tempted
to consider himself superior to those who lack his assets.
"If, in spite of it all, he remains humble and modest -- this
is the trait of humility which Hashem is looking for. On such
a person, Hashem wishes to place His Shechina."
This, explains the Ksav Sofer, is the greatness of Moshe
Rabbenu. He grew up in the house of Pharaoh and had every
reason to be haughty. Yet, he did not consider himself
superior to even the lowliest Hebrew slave. "Moshe, however,
was very humble, more so than any man on the face of the
earth" (Bamidbar 12:3). This is what the name
Moshe points to -- Moshe, who was raised by Pharaoh's
daughter, remained humble.
Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah that every Jew is
obligated to be like Moshe Rabbenu. Perhaps this is a way we
can fulfill Rambam's ruling: by striving to live humbly, with
mesiras nefesh and care for each and every Jew.