Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Shemot – ‘Striving for Greatness’

In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to Moshe Rabbeinu as a child; and we find that even seemingly inconsequential details about his development have so much to teach us.

After Moshe is retrieved from the Nile by Batya, the daughter of Pharoah, the Torah (2:7) tells us that Moshe’s sister, Miriam, approaches Batya and offers to help her find an Israelite woman to nurse the baby. In giving context to this seemingly random offer, Rashi quotes the Gemara Sotah 12b, which explains that after pulling Moshe from the Nile, Batya took him to numerous Egyptian women to feed, and Moshe refused to eat from them. Miriam therefore offered to take him to one of the Israelite women, ultimately enabling Moshe to be fed and nourished by his own mother, Yocheved, during his early years. The Gemara then explains that Moshe refused to eat from the Egyptian women because of who he was destined to become. The mouth that was destined to speak with the Shechina could not nurse from a non-Jewish woman, and thereby receive the impurity that she consumed. Moshe could only nurse from a Jewish woman, who kept herself to a higher standard.

In his commentary on the Torah, Emes L’Yaakov, Rav Yaacov Kamenetzky points out that we learn a practical halacha from this Gemara. The Rama in Yoreh Deah 81:7 paskens that a Jewish baby should not nurse from a non-Jewish woman whenever there is an option to nurse from a Jewish woman. Commenting on this psak, the Gr”a quotes a number of authorities who suggest that the source for this halacha is the story of Moshe Rabbeinu. However, asks Reb Yaacov, how could the story of Moshe Rabbeinu be the source for this law? After all, as the Gemara explains so beautifully, the specific reason why Moshe was not allowed to nurse from a non-Jewish woman was because he was someone who literally spoke to G-d- because of his greatness. How can we infer a general rule, applicable to all Jewish babies, from Moshe’s exceptional example?

Reb Yaacov answers beautifully that, from the development of this halacha, we learn an important lesson in chinuch: We have to believe that each of our children has the ability to achieve greatness. From their moments  as infants, and throughout their lives, we must view our children as if they have the potential to reach the highest levels of spirituality and kedusha, perhaps even close to the level of Moshe Rabbeinu- and we must therefore treat them accordingly.   We can never know, in advance, the tremendous heights they will reach.

I believe this message is one that is extremely relevant and poignant for us as parents. We must believe in our children- and instill within them a sense of the endless potential of what they can achieve in life. Each of our children, in his/her own way, has the ability to attain greatness- and it is our responsibility to inculcate that sense of tremendous opportunity in them as they grow up.

During an online panel discussion on parenting, Charlie Harary, a well-known and successful businessman and educator was asked to reflect upon his experience in the business world, and which characteristics of successful companies could be applied to the world of parenting as well. He explained that one major factor in defining successful companies is their constant search for greatness- they are always looking to become better, to do things better, to become great. These companies are not discouraged by failures or bumps in the road; they simply pick themselves up and continue working towards excellence. Sometimes our children, especially teenagers, get bogged down by their failures or mistakes, and, as a result, they give up on who they are or whom they can become. We need to instill within them the idea of “שבע יפול צדיק וקם”- “a tzaddik falls seven times, and yet continues to get back up”. One can, and should, always get back up, and continue striving for greatness.

Of course, we must be extremely careful that this striving for excellence does not cause undue stress or pressure. We must also ensure that our children grow up with a healthy sense of humility, and that they understand their place within the greater Jewish community, and within the world in general.

However, the message we learn from baby Moshe is that already from a young age, we must see within our children a potential for greatness- and work to instill within our children this sense of their tremendous potential, as well as a passion for realizing that potential. It is imperative that our children grow up with a deep understanding of the greatness that lies within them, and the greatness that they can bring to the world.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
Rav Yossi Goldin is the Director of Young Israel in Israel, runs the Shuls Department at World Mizrachi, and is the Israel Immersion Program Coordinator and Placement Advisor at YU/RIETS Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at
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