Friday, January 8, 2010

Boring my audience

You'd think that I could quietly type up my dvar torah in a non-public place, print it out, and put it with my things to go to services tomorrow. But no, I think it will be better if there's the pressure of knowing that you, my fans (teehee) are reading.

First, though, let me tell you about my day since I told you that I was overwhelmed. I've finished my cooking (with the exception of the pot of soup still on the stove), vacuumed, washed the kitchen floor, cleaned the bathroom, junked the moldy things from my refrigerator, washed a bunch of dishes... Yay oh yay!

I got my two packages of happy in the mail yesterday (my antidepressants and a yarn order) so what I'd really like to do right now is cast on my newest knitting project, not that I'm not in the middle of four projects already.

Anyway, now that all that is out of the way, a preview of my dvar torah:

[My cute intro...] Those of you who know me well know that there are three subjects that interest me. Knitting, the West Wing, and foster care. So I am going to talk today about knitting. Just kidding.

Since I'm interested in foster care--and for those of you who are wondering, the little one is with her dad this weekend--what struck me this week about the parsha is Moshe's early years. We know a lot about his later years starting with the episode when he strikes the Egyptian to running away, getting married, seeing G-d, going back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh, and so on.

But his early years are a blur with lots of questions left unanswered. We all know, from our basic psychology classes and our general tendency here to think that reading isn't worth doing unless it is the New York Times or non-fiction, that a person's infancy and childhood are key indicators of what that person's adult life will be like.

So why is it that we settle for the scant knowledge given to us by the Torah about Moshe's childhood? In the foster care and adoption world, we see the negative affect of abandonment, moves from home to home, and kids not knowing their own history.

What do we know, and what did Moshe himself know, about his history?

We know that he lived with his birth family for three months before he was, essentially, abandoned by his mother. We know--or assume--that she did this out of love and out of a fervent hope that her actions would spare his life. But a 3 month old only knows that he no longer has his mother.

We know that Miriam watched and hid as their mother placed Moshe in the river. Did their mother know that she was watching? That is, was she watching at her mother's direction, or did she simply want to know what was going to happen? How did Miriam feel about her mother sending her baby brother away?

We know that the daughter of Pharaoh finds the basket with Moshe and decides to keep him. But we don't know how old Pharaoh's daughter is. Does she want to keep Moshe as a son, or as something more resembling a pet, like a kid who finds a stray dog or turtle and brings it home?

We know that Moshe's mother placed him in a basket in the river, hoping to protect him. Did other mothers do the same thing? Was this a common occurrence, or an act derived from great creativity? In other words, how sure are we that the baby found by the daughter of Pharaoh was the baby placed in the river by Miriam's mother? Is it possible that the son of Miriam's mother was NOT the baby who grew up to be Moshe?

We know that Moshe was raised in Yocheved's house for some period of time after he was found by the daughter of Pharaoh. But we do not know for how long. How much information was Moshe given about his own history and heritage? Did Pharaoh's daughter place any restrictions on what Moshe could be told? Did he even know that he was an Israelite?

We also know, according to the literal meaning of the text, that Moshe was not named Moshe until he was returned to Pharaoh's daughter. Did he have another name until then? How did he feel about having his name changed? Did he understand that he was not going back to his biological mother?

How is it, then, with all of these unanswered questions and all of these opportunities for circumstances to really mess up Moshe's life, that he becomes our greatest prophet?

Though my conclusion is sappy, I offer it anyway: this demonstrates that each of us, no matter the excuses we might have from our past, has the potential for greatness.

[I'm really horrible at conclusions. That was the best I could do.]


  1. I loved it. Not that that matters much me being nonreligous and all, and having no clue what-so-ever what it is supposed to be like. But I really really liked it.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your d'var torah, Foster Ima. I am a recent convert to Judaism (5 years, and it still feels new!), and the story of Moshe has continued to fascinate me. I never thought of it in terms of foster care before, but I see how it could easily be viewed through that lens. Thank you for sharing!