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Kanfei Yonah: Shemot I: Moshe’s Cry



“And she opened it and she saw him – the lad – and there was a youth crying. She took pity on him, and said, ‘This is one of the children of the Ivrim.’” There is some question of interpretation concerning the use of two expressions back-to-back, describing him first as a lad and then as a youth.

Rashi explains that although he was but a lad, his voice, while crying, was that of a much older boy. Ramban counters that this does nothing to clarify the point of the text; all it does is make Moshe seem abnormal in his vocal development.

To appreciate what Rashi is driving at, we must first present two key textual problems: The first is what was there in his cry to convince her that he was an Ivri? Secondly, why say, “This is one of the children of the Ivrim,” and not simply, “This is an Ivri child?”

The story is told of Queen Theresa, who made life very difficult for the Jews in her kingdom. In Prague there was an old man, scholarly and righteous, who took it upon himself to call on her to plead on behalf of his people. But his voice was thick and sonorous, and the queen found it disturbing. She rebuked him sharply, “Couldn’t the Jews find someone with a more pleasant voice to plead their case?”

The old man answered wittily, “Your majesty, it is not me alone who speaks before you, but all the voices of my suffering brethren are combining in my throat to produce this noisy plea!” She liked his answer, and from then on, was more tolerant of her Jewish subjects.

So, too, the daughter of Pharaoh heard a cry emerging from this small child that seemed so mature and powerful; she heard in it the convergence of all the plaints of the many Jewish children whose death had been decreed by her father. “This is one of the children of the Ivrim,” she said, that is to say; the strength of his cry incorporates all the thinner, lonely cries of the children of the Ivrim. (Kanfei Yonah by Rabbi Yonah Ostrow)

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