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    Names of Moses – Sh’mot

    From the beginning of Sh’mot, the Israelite story is dominated by the career of Moses.

    His name Moshe is explained by the Torah text as a play on words. Pharaoh’s daughter, finding him in a basket at the edge of the river, “called his name Moshe, because I drew him out (m’shitihu) from the water” (Ex. 2:10).

    The grammatical form “Moshe”, however, is a present participle, and some commentators understand it as a prophecy that he would draw out his people from bondage.

    The Maharal does not limit himself to a prophetical explanation of “Moshe” but looks at the words min hamayim – “from the water”.

    What characterises Moshe is that he can rise above the material, symbolised by the water, and ascend to the highest rank which a human being can reach whilst still remaining human.

    Thus, whilst other prophets were occasionally visited by the spirit of prophecy and then returned to their physical lives, Moshe could prophesy at will; he did not drop down to the totally mundane level represented by the water.

    (Maimonides makes the dramatic distinction between Moses and other prophets in the 7th of his 13 Principles and in chapter 8 of his Eight Chapters on Ethics).

    It is interesting to link this idea with Moses’ abandonment of the luxuries of the Egyptian royal palace in order to “go out to his brethren” (Ex. 2:11). The princess brought him out of the water and into the palace; in order to be Moses he had to take himself out of the palace and immerse himself in a spiritual mission.

    The sages (Lev. R. 1:3, Talmud Meg. 13a, etc.) state that Moses had a number of other names, some of them hinted at in the Bible – Yered, Chever, Yekuti’el, Avigdor, Avisocho, Avizano’ach (see I Chron. 4:18), Tuvi’ah (see Ex. 2:2), Sh’maiah, Ben Netan’el, Hasofer, Halevi, Ben Evyatar (see I Chron. 24:6).

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