The first two sedrot of the Book of Sh’mot are so dominated by the early story of Moses that it is easy to pass over some of the ‘minor’ characters. Moses stands large at the front of the stage, while his family and others stand a little way behind him, merging into the background. Be this as it may, they play vital roles in his story and in the story of the people of Israel as it unfolds. First, before Moses is even born, there are the good midwives, Shifra and Puah, possibly Egyptian, who fear God and resolutely refuse to follow Pharaoh’s orders to kill newborn Hebrew babies. As soon as Moses is born, there is Moses’ mother, Yochebed, who realises from the moment of birth that Moses is a special baby and who manages to hide his presence for three months. Then there is the extraordinary little girl who, possibly with her mother’s guidance, bravely approaches the daughter of the oppressor of her people and, with amazing chutzpah, suggests to the Egyptian princess that she, Miriam, find a nurse for the baby. As a result, she enables her mother to look after her little brother for two years, presumably without fear of punishment. Probably knowing that the princess herself knows who she is and who the nurse will be, she refers to the latter, not as the baby’s – or her – mother, but as ‘a Hebrew woman’, so avoiding embarrassment for them both. There is the princess herself, surely one of the righteous among the gentiles. What would her family have thought when she eventually appeared with the little Hebrew boy? How did she prepare them for the appearance of her adoptive son, a child of despised and simultaneously feared slaves?
Moving forward, we encounter Jethro, a Midianite who shows true hospitality to a stranger and foreigner who had himself showed kindness to his daughters. What a contrast this is to the deceitful treatment meted out to Jacob by his own uncle centuries before when he had shown the same kindness to Laban’s daughter. Moses marries Jethro’s daughter, Tziporah, who, in turn, demonstrates her own mettle when she saves Moses’ life by circumcising his son in the desert. Finally, there is Aaron, who, while playing an important role in the negotiations with Pharaoh, and despite being Moses’ elder brother, still stands in the shadow of his brother. Later, both he and Miriam will have their time in the limelight, Aaron as the first chief cohen, Miriam as a kind of chazan, leading the people in song and praise. For the time being, though, theirs are not the voices we chiefly hear.
There is only one Moses, but all of us can make our own special contributions to guiding, even fulfilling, the destiny of Israel and the world.
To listen and follow one of our leaders in song and praise and to lend your own special voices to the endeavour, come along this Saturday at 10:30, when Harvey Kurzfield will be there to lead us.