In an article for Shemot 5774, Rabbi Cherki discusses the fact that Moses was of necessity a product of two different cultures.
This week’s Torah portion begins with many names. “And these are the names … Reuben, Simon” [Exodus 1:1], and so on. Once the generation of those who descended to Egypt passes away, the people are called by a communal name: “The Nation of the Children of Israel” [1:9]. Later on, even this name is eliminated, and we are merely called “the nation” [1:20]. That is the way of Egypt, to eliminate personal identity, the soul, and to transform the people into anonymous and insignificant individuals within the collective machine of those who built the great cities of the land. And in the story of the birth of the redeemer no names appear at all. There is a man from the house of Levi, a daughter of Levi, the child, his sister the maiden, Pharaoh’s daughter, her servant, and the mother of the child. It is almost as if all personal identities have been completely erased.
Even Moses himself is not known by his Hebrew name. His name has a double meaning. In Egyptian his name means “son” or “water.” That is the meaning of the verse which tells us about Pharaoh’s daughter: “And he was a son to her, and she called him Moses” [2:10]. But his mother understood his Egyptian name as stemming from the Hebrew. “And she (his mother) said, For you drew him out of the water” [ibid]. (“Meshitihu” is written without a yod after the tav, implying “you drew him out”.).
Moses grew up in two different cultures and with two missions in life. As the adopted son of Pharaoh, he could have been the next king of Egypt, and as the son of Amram, the head of the tribe of Levi, he could have chosen to be the next king of Israel. “And Moses grew, and he went out to his brothers” [1:11]. Ibn Ezra comments, “His brothers, the Egyptians.” But the Ramban writes, “the Hebrews.” Evidently Moses went out to determine just who his brothers were, to decide between the approaches of Ibn Ezra and the Ramban. When he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, he decided that the Hebrew man was his brother: “A Hebrew man, from among his brothers” [1:11]. The first act by the redeemer must be to identify with the suffering of the nation, and this must take place before any revelation, before he heard the word of G-d.
When the redemption begins, Moses asks himself, “Who am I?” [3:11], and he asks about G-d, “What is His name?” [3:13]. In order for redemption to take place, it is necessary to know in whose name we are acting, what mission mankind is fulfilling, and in what characteristic way G-d is guiding the world at that time. And therefore Moses emphasizes that “I came to speak in Your name” [5:23] – specifically, not an anonymous mission.
“The stargazers of Pharaoh said to him that ‘the savior of Israel has been born, but we do not know if he is from Egypt or from Israel’.” Two lessons can be derived from these words of our sages. The first is that a full eighty years before the redemption there were some who had a feeling that it was coming soon. However, nothing notable happened for many years after that. Any observer would certainly have been disappointed and would have felt that all the talk of redemption was an illusion. But this is the real secret of redemption, it progresses very slowly through hidden processes until it appears in its full light. The second lesson is that the redeemer must have a dual identity. He must belong to his own nation from the point of view of his roots and to all the nations from the point of view of his culture. Only in this way will the redemption be complete and encompass Israel and the entire world.
Source: “AS SHABBAT APPROACHES” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato, Shemot 5774, Volume 1504. (Zomet Institute) See: www.zomet.org.il/eng