My maternal grandmother, of blessed memory, was an Auschwitz survivor. She lost just about everything and everyone in her family, yet she managed to rebuild and live an incredible, successful and impactful life. She was one of those unforgettable people who left an indelible impression on everyone she met and everywhere she went. She was a paragon of chessed (loving-kindness) and generosity, as well as a profoundly wise and perceptive person.
As a young man, I asked her where she got the strength and determination to go on and live such a meaningful life. She replied that every morning upon arising, she asked herself one simple question: “Why me?” She explained that during the Holocaust, millions perished, many of them stronger and more resilient than she was, but for some reason the Almighty decided to spare her life. She took this as a mandate to live every single day to its fullest and capitalize on this incredible gift.
In this week’s Torah portion of Shemos, we find an identical phenomenon. First a bit of background. The Jews were in Egypt under the rule of the evil Pharaoh. To stem the exponential growth of the Jewish people, Pharaoh issued a decree mandating infanticide – every Jewish baby boy would be thrown into the Nile. One can only imagine the pain and suffering of the Jewish people. The Torah recounts the birth of Moses and how he too was supposed to be thrown into the Nile. In a desperate effort to save her baby, Moshe’s mother, Yocheved, made a small cradle of reeds and hid him on the banks of the Nile. Miraculously, Bisya, Pharaoh’s daughter, found Moshe and saved his life. She then named him “Moshe,” derived from the Hebrew phrase for “having been drawn out (of the Nile).”
Moshe was raised in Pharaoh’s royal palace, and eventually was forced to flee the country for siding with the suffering Jewish people. He ended up in a country called Midian, where he married and became a shepherd.
One day, as a he was caring for a small lamb, he saw the otherworldly scene of a bush on fire but somehow not being consumed by the flames. He approached the bush to investigate, and heard the voice of the Almighty calling out to him, “Moshe, Moshe.” Thus began his long conversation with the Almighty and his eventual appointment as the leader of the Jewish people. The commentaries are perplexed: Why did the Almighty need to repeat his name and call “Moshe, Moshe”? Was it necessary to say the name twice to get Moshe’s attention?!
I would like to suggest that first time the Almighty called Moshe’s name was to summon him, but then He repeated Moshe’s name to impress upon him his mission and mandate. In essence, the Almighty was saying “Moshe, the one drawn and rescued from the Nile…Moshe, did you ever wonder why hundreds of thousands of babies were thrown into the Nile and not one of them was rescued besides you? Did you ever reflect on the improbability of being rescued by the Pharaoh’s very own daughter and being raised on the lap of Pharaoh himself? Surely it is not by chance. Surely there is a greater plan, of which you are a crucial component.” And then the Almighty shared Moshe’s mission and mandate in being the Almighty’s agent in the miracles of the Exodus.
Who knows? Perhaps my grandmother took a page out of Moshe’s playbook in enduring and prospering!