Baby Moses

I remember the baby in a basket, sailing down a river. The entire movie about Moses and the Jewish exodus from Egypt and how the Ten Commandments came to be, and all I recall is that tiny floating baby. I was about eight when it was set to air. I was staying the night with my mom’s parents and I felt a buzz of anticipation to have a date that evening with my grandparents in front of the television.

As show time approached, I was belly down on the carpet. Fresh martinis clinked from the sofa behind me.

My excitement soon drooped like the saggy robes worn by the characters on screen, kicked away like the dust from their sandaled feet. The entire thing looked so old-timey and weird. What was this stupid story? Once the baby got old and grew a beard, I lost interest and wandered out of the room.

But the first few moments of the film are seared into my memory.The scene, as I recollect, goes like this: a woman sets her basket/baby into the river and lets it float away. The pained expression on her face reveals the difficulty of her decision. The baby will most likely drown but she deems this option safer than the baby staying with her. She’ll take the risk for the slim chance of the baby’s survival. Several frames focus on the baby up close, chubby and oblivious. The baby doesn’t have long; the basket is no better than a sieve. I was riveted; I had such high hopes for this movie. A woman standing at the bank downstream spots the basket. That this stranger is big-hearted enough to fish out the baby is almost too good to be true. That she turns out to be royalty and raises the orphan in the palace is the most surprising in the series of unlikely incidents that leads to the baby’s survival. Then the kid grows up in a montage of, like, two minutes and what I deemed the best part is over.

It’s not just me who got hung up on the baby. I’ve since spoken to others who confess that when they were younger and first exposed to the Moses story, the floating baby part captured their imaginations too. It makes me wonder if this aspect of the account resonates so profoundly because it speaks to our own survival stories: each of us here against all odds, the chances of our individual conceptions perhaps even slimmer than those of baby Moses being scooped from a river by a queen. We may not be able to grasp the improbability of our own lives—the chain of events leading to each of us being here too complex to fathom—but in the Moses story, the miracle of survival is writ large.

When I arrive in L.A., the synagogues, who appear to all be on about the same page in their weekly readings of the Torah, are mid-way through Exodus. The rabbis are going over the plot points covered in the movie about Moses and the Ten Commandments that I was too immature to understand. At long last, I get a second chance to discover what’s so great about the grown-up Moses. The first service I attend, we read about the people waiting at the base of Mount Sinai for Moses to return. These are the people who had been slaves in Egypt. Moses leads them to freedom with the guidance of God, who weakens the resolve of the Egyptians through a series of plagues and then parts the Red Sea for a speedy on-foot escape; the waters then flood the Egyptian army. When the people make it to the base of the mountain, Moses tells them to wait patiently while he goes to the peak to meet with God. Sounds straightforward to me, I thought, as the reading concluded. What could go wrong?

34 thoughts on “Baby Moses

  1. This wonderful mythical fairy tale is certainly as wonderful as Rumplestiltskin and Rapunzel. It matters not whether the story is true. It’s the message in the tale that’s appealing. Any Bible reader knows where the story goes next. Leave these Jews to their own devices and next thing you know they make a golden calf. All along they need some thing or someone to worship, judges, kings, temples, prophets and the dream of a “promised land” that became one of the most fought over piece of real estate mankind has ever known. A recent Bible scholar said that the Bible is a book about losers that, unlike, most stories or books that embrace the winners it embraces the losers and tells their story.

    • Frank, it’s really interesting that you would bring up the ‘losers’ aspect to the characters in the Bible….That is certainly true…..for example, Moses was such a loser who tried to take things into his own hands and do something ‘great’ by killing one of the mean guards for attacking an Israelite slave. But it’s also of note that all these ‘losers’ get caught up in a story of redemption, and God uses them in spite of themselves….Joseph was another loser, a self-righteous prig who got sold into slavery by his brothers….and became the vehicle of redemption for the whole family of Jacob (Israel)….Hooray for losers! 🙂

  2. If only he’d asked for directions like Zipporah told him to….

    So many Bible stories center on water as life-giving. In this case, Moses is set afloat and saved by Pharaoh’s daughter. Later, he makes water spring from a rock. Many of the Psalms mention water as an allegory for God’s love for His people . And of course, there’s John’s baptisms in the Jordan. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, given the scarcity of potable water in Palestine; its only natural the writers would consistently weave it into their stories.

  3. I’m sure each of us has a story of being rescued from the water (a tight spot) and the outcome turning out so much better than we could have imagined. I’ll tell you mine. I was married for 15 years very unhappily. I believed I was doomed to stay in this marriage and there was no way out, so I went to lots of counselors trying to make the best of it. Finally I had sort of a breakdown and decided to get divorced, believing with all my heart that I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life because I’d screwed it up the first time and wouldn’t get another chance.

    A year and a half later I met the man of my heart, my soul mate. Who actually thought HE’D never get another chance at happiness. We’ve been married 16 yrs and every day, I feel like baby Moses pulled out of the bullrushes — not just to settle for the life of a slave, but raised in the king’s palace. That my friends, is GRACE — undeserved favor. Stories of grace are all over the Bible, which is why I think, you can reject its inaccuracies and anachronisms but much of it is still immensely valuable and true.

  4. I’m curious about the faithful “born into a religion” compared to converts. While each person is unique.there might be some common factors that intellectually and emotionally attract potentially faithful. Certainly immersion (sorry) in the legends contributes to satisfying communal identification. but I wonder of the aspects that attract newcomers to Judaism as opposed to Catholicism or Scientology; and the perceived negative aspects of the new way of life that can be overlooked for the seeming greater satisfaction.

    • Very interesting quesion, Phil–I hope there are some folks here who can answer as far as coming to Judaism as an adult goes…

    • Hi Phil, I’ve wondered about this topic myself as someone who, at this point in life, can only approach religion as person not raised in it–regardless of which faith. For someone like me, the information and the point of view can be very fresh and powerfully new and I think someone who grew up with it will know it far more intimately but the “freshness” might come at unexpected times and might require a bit of soul-searching.

      • It’s living in the now moment that a true revelation occurs. It has nothing in the past or future to be tied to. You simply open to the freshness of now.

      • I’m kind of one who has been there done that….I grew up in Christianity, attending and active in church from about age 6, grew up assuming I was a Christian, but sticking most of what we did at church in my Christian pigeonhole. After seriously questioning my faith when wounded in Vietnam and reexamining it and realizing that I did indeed believe, everything took on new meaning.
        Phil, I’m not sure if I totally understand your question, but there were ‘negative aspects’ to my re-identification of myself as a Christian, including a negative stigma within family and among nonChristian friends and there was all that business about “taking up the cross”…..But the satisfaction and shalom (a concept of peace quite different from our English word) that resulted from coming to know God as Father leave the negative in the dustbin marked ‘not-worth-considering’.

        • I have often wondered about this experience that Walt talks about. I have relatives who are born-again evangelical Christians who ask me what I think such an experience is like. I’m not sure I know since I haven’t had their experience but I don’t think I’m too far off when I liken it to the “Aha!” experiences that some people, including me, have had in psychotherapy or people who have had a numinous experience of enlightenment. What I know about my “Aha!” experiences as well as moments of enlightenment is that they changed my life forever. Not necessarily because they involved moving into a new belief but because they opened me up to realizations and revelations about myself that I hadn’t “seen” before and allowed me to live a much more fulfilling life. By no means does that mean that my evolution as a person is over. I expect to have other “Aha!” moments and moments of enlightenment. Well known Psychotherapist Carl Rogers wrote a wonderful book titled, “On Becoming A Person” in which it becomes obvious that we will always be in the process of becoming. I can only suspect that we step into special moments in time when a particular happening engages our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual life so deeply that it defines the remainder of our lives. I have come to believe, however, that no one experience is greater or better than another’s.

        • Walt and Frank—I think you both express the same idea—that our faith and its expression can and should evolve over the course of our lives. I’ve always been a little suspicious of people who can pin their faith to a precise event in time—an “I saw the light” moment. First, I think faith based on a single event can transitory, like the seed planted in shallow soil withered by the sun. Second, I think it “locks” the person into a certain mind-set from which it is difficult to evolve. I think all of us have had those “aha” moments, when our faith became sharper and clearer, but I think it’s just as important to remember how faith can unfold and show itself to us in small ways, every day. We need to be open, from one moment to the next, for whatever God wants to show us.
          A couple of months ago, I suggested to our son that we take a walk one night; we didn’t have much to do and he enjoys walking. We walked for a little more than an hour in our neighborhood and discussed a lot of things; his impending departure for college (now three weeks away), leaving high school—nothing momentous or dramatic. But that hour changed both of us; we each came away with a little better understating of each other and our views. Yes, it was a small moment, but it’s in the ongoing series of small moments I think the greatest change can occur, and where God does most of His work.

          • I agree, Tim. Sometimes, an evangelical’s “moment” was some decision based upon a feeling in time that is difficult to re-find when doubts arise. My own “aha” moment (dragged out over weeks) was a conviction that the resurrection actually happened. It could never–at least for me–be based on some coming to a ‘revelation’ of faith. My faith started small, and I did have many doubts, but as I went along, I realized that my faith was not something I had in myself but rather was a matter of trusting God, just like in human relationships, our trust in the person grows as we get to know them better and understand how trustworthy they really are.

            • It’s that kind of practice that makes it easier and easier to “let go and let God.” I was reminded of this poem called, “Revival” by R.H. Granville:
              Walking through morning grass
              I left my mark:
              a wake of stems crushed flat.
              Of course, I meant no harm.
              So often, life’s like that,
              And hopes get brushed aside,
              feelings are hurt.
              But the resilient grass
              bore me no grudge.
              By evening light,
              the sun-absorbing blades
              stood full upright.
              I too, can draw on strengths
              beyond the seen
              to spring up like the grass,
              refreshed and green;
              after some heedless word
              or ill wind blowing,
              to reaffirm my faith
              and keep on growing.”

              • Thanks for that, Frank. I reminds me of how often I’ve tried to straighten up the blades of grass (obvious idiocy to everyone but me), when God would bring them back to full strength in his time.

  5. The mystics give an a wonderful explanation to what is underlying this story. At this time in history, the Nile was considered to be one of ,main Gds of the Egyptians. It was also considered to be a metaphor for the Egyptian was a life. For Moses’s parents, to save him by floating him out on the river, hence the Egyptian way of life, was a major act of faith. The fact that he saved from this by a Pharoh’s daughter, who according to the medrash, later became a convert, adds multiple layers to a powerful story.

    • duh…excuse my routine practice of inserting goofy typos… reads “Egyptian was a life” should read “Egyptian way of life”.

      • Thanks, Aaron, for the addition about the river Nile….I also might add that the miracles Moses performed later to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go were aimed at the various gods of the Egyptians…the Nile among them again (water turned to blood)….

    • Love your interpretation of the faith of Moses’ parents, Aaron. Similarly, the New Testament interprets:

      By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Messiah to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. (Hebrews 11:23-29)

      I find that faith is a lifetime process, not a singular experience. The thing that makes faith persist is the One in whom you have faith. For me, connecting with Him daily in various ways where you sense He’s real and present, along with the fellowship with other believers, keeps faith alive. It may have a memorable beginning point, but that’s … well … just the beginning.

  6. Corinna said-

    “I’ve since spoken to others who confess that when they were younger and first exposed to the Moses story, the floating baby part captured their imaginations too. It makes me wonder if this aspect of the account resonates so profoundly because it speaks to our own survival stories”

    Ah, a classic plot device from Ancient World literature, the “exposed child” motif:

    It was so popular in the Torah, the writers of the NT reheated it with baby Jesus, escaping to Egypt when King Herod tried to kill all the newborns after being told the messiah was born. A good plot device like that NEVER gets old, no matter how many times you hear it: just change the names and locations, and it freshens it up in a jiffy!


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