In this week's Torah portion, Moses is found in a basket by the Egyptian princess, Batya. Moses' sister, Miriam, who is standing nearby, asks Batya if she should go and get a Jewish wet nurse for the baby. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Batya first attempted to feed Moses from Egyptian wet nurses, but Moses refused their milk. Moses’ refusal was due to the fact that he was destined to speak with G-d, and it was not befitting that the mouth that was going to speak with G-d should be nursed from a woman of impurity.
The Code of Jewish Law records that even though it is not forbidden for a Jewish baby to be nursed by a woman of impurity, it is better to refrain from doing so. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon, sources this law with the aforementioned Rashi.
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky Of Blessed Memory, asks, “How can this be the source of the law in question? Surely the reason that applied to Moses does not apply to every one of us; we aren’t going to be speaking to G-d in the direct way Moses did.”
Rabbi Kamenetzky answers that herein lies a fundamental lesson in raising our children. Every parent has to know that their child has immense potential for greatness; the potential to be a Moses! Therefore, every Jewish child should not feed from an impure source because they have the same potential that Moses did.
We have to educate every child with the knowledge that they can become truly great. Even if they might not end up speaking directly to G-d, if they fulfill their potential then they have achieved greatness akin to that of Moses. After all, it’s not how you measure up against everyone around you; it’s what you do in relation to your own unique potential.
The question then, is how can we as parents craft the experiences of today so as to best help our children realize that potential? The answer to this, too, may be found in this week’s portion.
Immediately before Moses receives his famous prophecy at the burning bush, which would serve as a turning point in all of history, and where he was formally named G-d’s appointee to take the People of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage and lead them to their exalted destiny, the verse (3:1) reports that “Moses was shepherding.” It’s almost as if to say that his occupation as a shepherd was conducive to, or in some way caused, this great prophecy. How could that be?
The early 17th century Torah commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, commonly known by the name of his most famous work, Kli Yakar, poses this very question, and generally wonders if it is merely a coincidence that many of the prophets and leaders of our People were shepherds. As with most, if not all, things in Torah, the answer is clearly no.
As the Kli Yakar explains, a shepherd simply has more time alone in the great outdoors to contemplate the wonders of Hashem’s creation, to think things over and to thereby reach a certain level of spiritual purity. It was this purity that allowed for Moses' initial prophecy, because such things facilitate the formation of tomorrow’s leaders.
So it is for us. Homework and the hustle and bustle of an active social life are healthy and important components of our children’s lives. Even screen time, within reason, may have its place when used correctly. However, to truly develop as we hope they will, our children need “down time,” during which they are left to quietly read, to think and to explore the awesome greatness of G-d and their own personal connection to Him. JN
Rabbi Yisroel Weiner is head of school at Phoenix Hebrew Academy.