Friday, January 13, 2012

Angels raising the Israelite children in Egypt

In reply to an email from a regular reader (credit after confirming it is OK):

I have a question about Shemot. My son told me that his Morah told his 1st grade class that when the Egyptians threw the boys into the Nile, melachim took the babies and raised them in a cave and then returned them to their parents.

Have you heard of this before? I can't seem to find any references to it . . . .
I recalled reading it in The Midrash Says, and I finally tracked it down.


Thus, there are slight divergences from the Morah's account. It is not that they were cast in the Nile, but rather that the babies were never cast in the Nile. They were born in the field and left there. And it was not a cave, precisely. They lived out in the open in the field, but they were concealed underground whenever the Egyptians came. And the angels did clean and feed the infants. And the angels did not return them to their parents. When they grew up, they returned of their own accord.

Based on the footnotes at the bottom of the page, this is based on Sotah 11b together with the  commentary of the Maharsha.
R. Awira expounded: As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt. When they went to draw water, the Holy One, blessed be He, arranged that small fishes should enter their pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half full of fishes. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had intercourse with them among the sheepfolds, as it is said: When ye lie among the sheepfolds etc.4  As the reward for 'When ye lie among the sheepfolds', the Israelites merited the spoliation of the Egyptians, as it is said: As the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her pinions with yellow gold.5  After the women had conceived they returned to their homes; and when the time of childbirth arrived, they went and were delivered in the field beneath the apple-tree, as it is said: Under the apple-tree I caused thee to come forth [from thy mother's womb] etc.6  The Holy One, blessed be He, sent down someone from the high heavens who washed and straightened the limbs [of the babes] in the same manner that a midwife straightens the limbs of a child; as it is said: And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee.7  He also provided for them two cakes, one of oil and one of honey, as it is said: And He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil etc.8  When the Egyptians noticed them, they went to kill them; but a miracle occurred on their behalf so that they were swallowed in the ground, and [the Egyptians] brought oxen and ploughed over them, as it is said: The ploughers ploughed upon my back.9  After they had departed, [the Israelite women with their babes] broke through [the earth] and came forth like the herbage of the field, as it is said: I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field;10  and when [the babes] had grown up, they came in flocks to their homes, as it is said: And thou didst increase and wax great and didst come with ornaments11  — read not with ornaments [ba'adi 'adayim] but in flocks [be'edre 'adarim]. At the time the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself by the Red Sea, they recognised Him first, as it is said: This is my God and I will praise Him.12
Perhaps more analysis of this midrash next week.


Laura said...

Thanks so much for explaining this. I was getting my son's version of his morah's explanation, so he might have been a little unclear.

This midrash does not seem to be specifically in reference to Pharoh's decree to throw baby boys into the Nile, but to general persecution before that decree.

There was also this on the Chabad site in relation to this midrash:

"At first, Pharaoh only insisted that they make the prescribed number of bricks each day. Then he commanded that they should not be allowed to sleep in their homes, so that they should not be able to have children. So the taskmasters said to them: "If you go home to sleep, you will lose a few hours each morning from your work, when we send for you, and you will never complete the allotted number." So they made them sleep on the ground out in the field."

"What did the daughters of Israel do? They would go down to draw water from the river, and G-d would send them small fish into pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half full of fish. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish. They sold the fish and bought wine, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink. They would then take out their mirrors and look into them with their husbands, teasing them, "Look, I am more beautiful than you" thus arousing their desire and cohabiting with them among the sheepfolds, as it is written: "When ye lie among the sheepfolds" (Psalms 68:14). (It was these mirrors which G-d later commanded Moses to use in the making of the washstand in the Sanctuary -- see Exodus 38:8)."

Does this mean that there is no midrash (or at least well known midrash) about the baby boys thrown in the Nile being miraculously saved?

Mar Gavriel said...

Only the printed Gemara-texts read רבי עוירא. The three MSS (Oxford Bodl. 20 d. [2675], Vatican 110, and Munich 95) all read ר' עקיבא.

(This is relevant, actually, because of the question of whether early Palestinian Amoraim, who called the ḥaroseth זכר לתפוח, could have been familiar with this story.)

Anonymous said...

ר' שילא אומר כל הילדים שהשליכו ליאור לא מתו אלא היאור הפליט אותם והשליך אותם למדבר מצרים והיה הקב"ה מביא סלע בפי כל אחד ואחד וכו' (פר"א פמ"ב יל"ש רמז קס"ה


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