Illustration Credit: Elad Lifshitz, Dov Abramson Studio

Midrash מִדְרָשׁ

Midrashim are ideas or stories that explain the Torah. They often come from listening very carefully to what the Torah says and how it says it. Here, we will look for what clues this midrash sees in the Torah's words and try to understand its messages.
In one of the most dramatic moments in our parashah, Pharaoh’s daughter finds baby Moshe in a basket on the water.
וַתֵּ֤רֶד בַּת־פַּרְעֹה֙ לִרְחֹ֣ץ עַל־הַיְאֹ֔ר וְנַעֲרֹתֶ֥יהָ הֹלְכֹ֖ת עַל־יַ֣ד הַיְאֹ֑ר וַתֵּ֤רֶא אֶת־הַתֵּבָה֙ בְּת֣וֹךְ הַסּ֔וּף וַתִּשְׁלַ֥ח אֶת־אֲמָתָ֖הּ וַתִּקָּחֶֽהָ׃
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the river, and her maidens walked along the river. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her amah to fetch it.
Two rabbis debate the meaning of amah here because there are actually two Hebrew words that sound like amah with two totally different meanings.
Since there is no דָּגֵשׁ (dagesh, a dot that sometimes appears inside Hebrew letters) in the מ (mem) in the word, "amah," the more obvious meaning should be, "maidservant." So why might someone think it means, "arm"? Here are two possible reasons:
  1. Look carefully at the words in the pasuk (Shemot 2:5). It says that Pharaoh's daughter went down to the river with her נְעָרוֹת (ne’arot, maidens). If she had sent one of them to get the basket, we might have expected the Torah to use the same word, נַעֲרָה (na’arah, maiden). Instead, it uses an entirely different word: amah.
  2. Think about the story as a whole. The encounter between Pharaoh’s daughter and the baby is very personal. She gazes at him, hears him cry, feels pity, and adopts him as her son. Based on the feeling of the story, it makes sense that her finding the basket would have been personal as well, extending her own arm to reach it rather than sending someone else.
  • Which interpretation do you think is more compelling? Why?
  • Later on, the midrash suggests that the basket was too far away to reach when Pharaoh’s daughter stretched out her arm to it, so her arm miraculously grew extra long! What does this image add to our understanding of the story?