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The boy grew up and she brought him to daughter of Pharaoh and he was a son to her. She called him name Moshe as she said “For I drew him from the water” (Shemos 2:10).
In this week’s parsha we learn about the origin of Moshe’s name. Chazal tell us that although Moshe had as many as ten names, the primary name by which he was called was Moshe. This name was given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh in commemoration of her drawing him out of the water. Chazal tell us that the name of person captures his essence and mission in life. At the time of a child’s birth, parents are endowed with a degree of prophecy in order that they give their child a name that will define his future mission and accomplishments. Moshe was no exception. Moshe’s mission was to free the Jewish people from their enslavement in Egypt and transform them into a holy nation by accepting the Torah on Har Sinai. The transition point between these two major events took place with the splitting of the sea. Here the Jewish people were drawn from the water and saved as the Egyptians drowned. Thus the name Moshe also alluded to the time when Moshe will draw the Jewish people out of the sea of reeds.
Rashi here explores the exact root of the Moshe’s name. First Rashi quotes the interpretation of Menachem ben Saruk. Menachem was a grammarian who wrote a sefer-dictionary called Machberes. Menachem relates that the name Moshe and word mih’she’se’hu, translated, I have drawn him, are derived from two root letters, mem-shin. This root is found in the posukim “It shall not be removed from your mouth this book of the Torah” (Ye’hoshuah 1:8) and “And the ark of Hashem’s covenant and Moshe did not move away” (Bamidbar 14:44).
Rashi disagrees with Menachem demonstrating that the two letter root word mem-shin does not grammatically fit in the posuk. Rather, Rashi explains that the root is three letters, mem-vav-shin. An example of a word derived from this root is “He will take me out of many waters” (Tehilim 18:17 and Sefer Shmuel II 22:7).
In conclusion we have a dispute between Rashi and Menachem ben Saruk as to the exact root of Moshe’s name. It is either the two letter mem-shin as used in sefer Yehoshuah or the three letter mem-vav-shin as used in Tehilim and sefer Shmuel. It appears that both of these words are translated in a similar manner. i.e., “remove” or “take out.” Is there any difference between the two?
Let us suggest that there is indeed a subtle difference. Let us illustrate this with an example. Room A and Room B are adjacent to each other. A person is standing in Room A and moves to room B. Two things have happened. (1) The individual has left Room A and (2) the individual has entered Room B. What was this man’s primary intent? Was it to leave Room A or to enter Room B? Similarly, although both the root mem-shim and mem-vav-shin mean to leave one location and enter another, the difference between the two is the emphasis of intent. The root mem-shin emphasizes leaving or disassociating oneself with something. It is not important where you go. What is important is that you have left. Indeed the posukim cited above as examples that use this two letter root mem-shin have this connotation. For example the first posuk speaks about our relationship with Torah. It commands us, not to let the Torah leave us. The posuk is not concerned where the Torah will go only that it not leave us, its origin. However, the root word mem-vav-shin puts the emphasis on the destination, where are we going. Indeed, the posuk cited as an example of a word that uses this three letter root, mem-vav-shin focuses not so much on the fact that we leave the many waters but that we return to Hashem. Here the emphasis is on the destination.
Hashem explained to Moshe that he would have a double role in redeeming the Jewish people. First he would be instrumental in freeing the Jewish people form their bondage. Second, he would transform them into a holy nation by preparing them to receive the Torah on Har Sinai.
We may thus suggest that both Rashi and Menachem agree that the name Moshe captures Moshe’s essence and his complete role of redemption. This includes freeing the Jewish people from slavery and transforming them into a holy nation by receiving the Torah. The disagreement between them is the emphasis of the primary goal. According to Menachem, Moshe’s primary function was to free the Jewish people from their enslavement in Egypt. What happened afterwards was secondary for Moshe. The goal of transforming the Jewish people into a holy nation was Hashem’s role. Moshe would serve only in the background. According to Rashi however, Moshe’s primary function was transforming the Jewish people into a holy nation by accepting the Torah. What happened before this was just a prerequisite.
Chazal teach us that when possible we should attempt to reconcile two different opinions concerning matters of Torah. “Both these and these are the words of Hashem’s living Torah.” When Hashem appeared to Moshe for the first time the posuk says: “Hashem saw that he turned aside to see; And Hashem called out to him from amid the bush and said “Moshe, Moshe …” (Shemos 3:4). Chazal tell us that a doubling of one’s name connotes an expression of endearment and encouragement. Homiletically, we may suggest that Hashem called Moshe twice to allude to the dual mission required of him, the mission of freeing the Jewish people from slavery and the mission of transforming them into a holy nation by receiving the Torah. Hashem called to Moshe twice, once according to Menachem ben Saruk’s understanding of his name and once, according to Rashi’s understanding of his name.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5764/2003