Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Exodus Chapter 2, we learn of Moses’ birth. He was born to Amram and Jochebed, both
from the tribe of Levi.

“And there went a man of the house of Levi and took to wife a daughter
of Levi. And the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw
him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she
could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark made of bulrushes,
and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and she put the child therein –
and laid it in the reeds by the river’s edge.”

Pharaoh had decreed infanticide on all males born to the Jews – by drowning in the Nile. Moses was a
pre term baby. For a short time, Jochebed concealed him from lurking Egyptian police, ever vigilant to
obey the king’s orders and murder Jewish babies.

Three months passed. “And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark…and she put
the child therein…” Abravanel attacks Jochebed’s decision to endanger Moses by placing him in a
waterproof crib, albeit a floatable one. Harshly, he asks: How did Jochebed’s action differ from
Pharaoh’s? Drowning is drowning. If she derived comfort, Abravanel writes, that her floating device was
superior to or more humane than Pharaoh’s decree, well, then she was delusional. It wasn’t.

Abravanel provides Bible students with crucial context, allowing readers to evaluate Jochebed in its
proper light. She gave birth to Moses at the start of her seventh month of pregnancy. Jochebed
observed how the baby defied medical norms insofar as he was fully developed and had a pleasant
nature, a rarity for preemies.

Egyptian police tracked all Hebrew women’s pregnancies. Authorities knew when Jochebed was due,
and regularly checked on her, starting from her seventh month. They constantly badgered her: “Where’s
the baby?”, they interrogated.

Our chapter records that she kept him well hidden, yet lied when she told the police that her baby died
at birth. The goons didn’t believe her; they intensified their search. Eventually, Jochebed couldn’t
conceal Moses any longer.

Jochebed needed to consider the worse of two evils. If Egyptians discovered Moses, he and his parents
would be summarily executed. And so, Jochebed built her son an ark, recalling that Noah survived the
flood by so doing. “She took for him an ark made of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and pitch…”

She chose her materials wisely, because it created a cushy interior for her baby on the one hand, and on
the other hand blended in with the Nile’s riverbank surroundings. Of course, it was seaworthy.

All told, Jochebed’s choice was excruciating. Holding on to her baby any longer brought certain and
absolute death to the entire household. However, a floating crib gave Moses a fighting chance to

The wise and pious woman’s gambit succeeded. “And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in
the river…and she saw the ark among the reeds, and sent her handmaid to fetch it.”

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.