I saw a very powerful teaching from the Kotzker Rebbe (19th c. Poland) this week, and I wanted to share it with you.
There is so much action in this week’s parsha, as we begin the book of Exodus and the epic narrative of the Jewish People is shifting from the story of our foremothers and forefathers, to the Jewish Nation and its formation in the exile of Egypt. This week we meet Moses and he becomes the leader of the Jewish People, albeit reluctantly and humbly (which is incredibly poignant as the world is watching Washington today), and the beginning of the story of redemption which will be the subject of the Torah readings for the next few weeks.
Buried in the beginning of the story is an interesting insight from the Rabbis which was never very clear to me, until I read the following teaching.
The Torah tells us (Exodus 2:5) that when Moses was floating down the Nile in the basket his parents placed him in, Pharaoh’s daughter saw the basket and sent her maid-servant (ammatah) to take it. This is an entirely reasonable translation and reading. However, Rashi does due diligence and quotes the Rabbis of the Talmud that see in this word a double meaning. Amah is also a measurement (‘armslength’). Therefore, ammatah would mean, ‘her armslength.’ Coupled with the word ‘sent’, the new reading is that her ‘armslength’ was lengthened, thereby changing the meaning of this verse to say that Pharoah’s daughter stretched out her hand towards the basket and it was miraculously lengthened to reach the basket!
A little ‘far’-fetched, no?
I never felt fully comfortable with the exertion of Rabbinic creativity to devise this clever reading. What are they trying to teach us? Why go to such an effort? Fine, this is another miracle in the story of Moses to emphasize that there is Divine intervention in the story and he is the chosen one, I get it it. And that was where I left it. Until now.
The Kotzker Rebbe asks: If the basket was beyond her reach, thus necessitating this miracle, could she have possibly anticipated it?? Rather, this scene comes to teach us something very profound and powerful. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in a situation that seems impossible and there is no way out or no way to solve the problem. Barring an absolute miracle, we are left powerless and do nothing, explaining to ourselves that whatever we could have done, wouldn’t have really make a difference anyway.
However, Pharaoh’s daughter heard a cry, and something struck her in her heart. Even though the distance between her and the basket was unbridgeable, she performed an action. This action, by all logical measures, was totally and completely pointless and ineffective. However, since she did the maximum that she was capable of, and she accomplished the impossible! Her seemingly futile action drew the Divine in, miraculously extending her arm, facilitating what could not be done.
Friends, like Rebbe Nachman teaches us to never despair, when we exert our maximum, even in the face of impossibility, we should never give up!
May we all be blessed with the courage and audacity to exert ourselves, and may the Source of all Life meet our efforts and help us to accomplish the impossible!