Who is the individual identified by the following clues?
A man known by a name not given to him by his parents.
Indeed, till this very day this man’s birth name remains unclear.
Though he led a great nation, his people saw him as a stranger.
A man of no words, yet his words become immortalized and are remembered forever like no other mans’ words.
He spent his most formative years away from home – on the water, in a foreign palace and then in a distant land. But he came to build the most powerful home in existence.
History’s greatest leader and humblest man.
He is the most famous man in history, yet no one knows where he is buried till this very day.
Who is this mysterious man, riddled with contradictions?
None other than Moses.
The mystery of Moses lies in his name: Though he was named by his parents (1), he is known by his name Moses – Moshe – given to him by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ mother, to save him from Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn Jewish males be drowned in the Nile, placed her three-month-old infant in a basket and concealed it in the rushes that grew along the Nile riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the weeping child when she went to bathe in the river.
She therefore named the child Moshe (“the drawn one”), “because I have drawn him from the water” (Exodus 2:10).
Why would the great Moses be known by this strange name based on this seemingly incidental episode? The name Moses actually captures the essence of his personality: A man drawn from water.
Water is a mysterious world. Unlike land where the terrain and the creatures are visible, the contours of the sea and all its inhabitants remain submerged and concealed in an unknown universe. This distinction is not merely quantitative. The fish in the sea are dependent and connected to their very source of sustenance, while land mammals remain separate from their source; their psyches are disconnected from their life source.
The mystics explain that Moses was a “man of no words” because his soul originated from the “hidden worlds” of water, the intimate world of the unconscious, which is more profound and intense than any words of land can express. But for this exact reason Moses introduced unprecedented revelation to Earth. Precisely because Moses is a “water man” living on Earth, he is able to draw from the inner worlds and bridge and express the language of the Divine and communicate it to the land people.
The Zohar teaches that there are tzaddikim (righteous individuals) who live their entire lives as “fishes of the sea,” wholly submerged within a perpetual awareness of and subjugation to the divine reality. Moses was the epitome of these “aquatic souls.” “Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth.” He was certainly aware of his own greatness; certainly he knew that he was the single human being chosen by G-d to serve as the conveyor of the Divine wisdom and will to the human race. Yet Moses did not view his qualities as his “own” attainments, for he had utterly nullified and submerged his self within the sea of the divine reality. His own life was merely the divine plan being realized through a transparent channel; his teachings – the “Divine presence speaking from his throat.”
And that is why Moses was actually hidden in the water, and is consistently identified with water (see Water, Egypt and September 11).
Thus Moses was an embodiment of paradox and contradictions. Drawn from water, Moses bridged two opposite worlds – the unconscious and the conscious, the world of spirit and the world of matter, the Divine and the human.
Outside of this world, Moses was able to transform this world and build the Holy Temple, a material home for the Divine, where “I will rest amongst you.”
Though Moses is the most famous person in history, he always remains a mystery – seemingly more at home in his 40 days in the clouds of Sinai than in his days on Earth. Even after death – by the kiss of G-d – Moses’ burial place remains unknown: “Below it appeared as though he was above and above it appeared as though he was below.”
Therein lays the secret of the enigmatic Moses: Moses was a “man of G-d.” To be a man and to be Divine is the ultimate paradox.
So, the next time you encounter a paradox in your own life or in the world around you – remember that paradox maybe the most natural state of a universe not fully in touch with its own essence.
* * *
One of the most moving verses describing Moses’ early days is often overlooked.
Moses’ life begins with a very gentle moment: a little sister watching over her baby brother. As the three-month old Moses lay floating in a basket on the riverbank, his seven-year-old sister, Miriam “stood at a distance to see what would happen to him” (2:4).
We may never know the full impact that Miriam’s gentle watch had on Moses’ great life. We do know that because Miriam patiently waited and watched over Moses, she later merits that the entire nation “did not move” and waits for her to heal and return home before they travel on (Numbers 12:15. Mishne Soteh 9b).
Oh, how we are in need of such sisters today?
Every one of us, at one time or another, will be floating on a “river,” feeling abandoned and left alone in foreign waters.
Which child is not in need of someone watching and protecting the child? And even as adults – our “inner child” and even our “outer adult” – needs to know that we are being watched over and protected.
A little girl just about 3400 years ago teaches us about our responsibility to protect the children around us.
Rise women, sisters and daughters. Protect your children. Watch over your men.
A little care today, even for a mere hour, results in a lifetime of reward.
All great events are borne out of small, unnoticed acts. All great people rise out of humble, quiet moments.
Every great person has a “sister” who watched over him.
Who will you watch over?
(1) There are several opinions in the Talmud and Midrash regarding Moses’ name: Tov or Tuviah (Soteh 12a). Moses’ had ten names: Yorad, Chaver, Yekusiel (see Pirkei d’Reb Eliezer ch. 48), Avigdor, Avi Suko, Avi Zonuach, Tuvia, Shemayah, Levi, Moshe (Vayikra Rabba 1:3. See Megilah 13a). The Seder Hadorot (entry on Moshe) cites that Moses’ father, Amrom, called his son Chaver. His grandfather, Kehot, called him Avigdor.
* * *