Quick Comment Parashat Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)
Many times I have asked religious school students to name Jesus’ mother, and almost always they can name Mary.
When I ask these same Jewish students to name Moses’ mother very few can name Yocheved.
Yet Yocheved’s significance is beyond measure.
Long ago Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (second century CE) roused a sleepy congregation by exclaiming, “A woman once gave birth to 600,000 at one time.”
“Who,” a student asked?
“Yocheved,” answered the rabbi, “because when she gave birth to Moses, she also gave life to the 600,000 who left slavery in Egypt.” (Song of Songs Rabbah 1:15, section 3)**
Yocheved deserves every bit of praise we can heap on her, for her wisdom and teaching shaped Moses’ character.
She courageously would not give in to Pharaoh’s cruel decree that every Hebrew boy be drowned and saved her son alive. When Pharaoh’s daughter drew him from the river, Miriam quickly suggested Yocheved to nurse the baby.
Surely Yocheved taught Moses as she suckled him: “My precious child, you will have all the advantages a prince of Egypt can enjoy. Drink deeply of their knowledge of science, Mathematics, Administration and everything else they can teach.
But remember you are a child of the Covenant of Abraham and Sarah.
Remember that you must bring justice and righteousness into the world. Remember you must stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.”
We can safely bet that Yocheved’s teachings were in Moses’ mind when he saw a taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Why else would Moses throw away his power and position to stand up for a slave? Yes, he gained knowledge from the best tutors Egypt had. But he imbibed the compassion that made him great along with the milk from his mother’s breast.
**I first heard this story in a memorable address to the Central Conference of American Rabbis Convention by Rabbi Samuel Egal Karff in 1984.