TWO NON JEWISH HEROINES AND HOW THE JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE TREATED THEM
on Parasha Shmot

                                                      Rabbi Jack Riemer, Boca Raton, Florida

 
I want to introduce you to two women today.
 
These two women have never met, but they have something important in common.
 
One of these women is more than three thousand years old. I don't know if you are allowed to mention a woman's age but that is how old I figure she is. I don't know her exact age but it is around three thousand years—give or take a couple of centuries either way.
 
The other woman is only forty five years old.
 
One of these women lived in Egypt. The other lived in India.
 
By now, with these hints, have you figured out who they are?
 
The first is Sandra Samuel. A few months ago, the whole world knew who she was. But now, just a short time later, she has been nearly forgotten -- except by the Jewish people.
 
Sandra Samuel was the nanny in the home of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg in Mumbai. The Chabad House which they ran was deliberately targeted by the terrorists. It is not true that they were meant to be taken as hostages. The terrorists broke into the Chabad House, shooting as they came, and they murdered the six people who were there. They murdered all but one -- their two year old son, Moshe, whose crib was in another room, and whom they had not gotten to yet.
 
Sandra Samuel, the nanny, was asleep on the first floor of the Chabad House. When she heard the sound of shooting going on, she ran upstairs quickly to see what was happening. She saw Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg and their guests lying on the floor, riddled with bullets, and she heard the baby screaming in his room. And so she quickly ran into the child's room, picked him up, and ran down the stairs and out of the house. As she ran out of the house, she passed the terrorists, and she said afterwards that she screamed at them and said; "Don't you dare touch this child!" Sandra Samuels saved the baby's life that day by her quick thinking and by her bravery.
 
That day was Moshe's birthday, but, nebech, instead of having a party, as had been planned, he became an orphan on that day. And all of us can still remember that poignant picture of this child at the memorial service that was held at the synagogue the day after the slaughter that took place at the Chabad House. The picture is of a child, in his nanny's arms, holding a ball—which looks a little bit like a globe of the world -- crying and screaming at the top of his lungs during the service. At two years old, Moshe is too young to understand what has happened, but he somehow senses that he has lost his parents, his home, and his world all at once. No one can look at that photograph of Moshe and not be moved to tears.
 
But what interests me today is what happened the day after the service.
 
Rivka's parents, Moshe's grandparents, came from Israel to India to pick up their daughter and their son in law and the six other innocent people who had been in the Chabad House that day and bring them back to Israel for burial. The Rosenbergs, who are Rivka Holtzberg's parents, announced that they would take care of their grandchild and raise him. And they announced that they were thinking of moving from Israel to India so that they could take their children's place in doing the work of Chabad.
 
Isn't that an amazing thing for heartbroken, bereaved parents to think of doing?
 
But there was one more facet to the story that caught my attention. The government of Israel sent a military plane to Mumbai to bring the bodies home. And there was a state funeral in Jerusalem before the bodies were taken to be buried at Kfar Chabad. The President and the Prime Minister both spoke at the service and expressed the pain and the anger that all of us felt at this atrocity.
 
And at this ceremony, the Prime Minister of Israel made two special announcements. He announced that Sandra Samuel, the nanny who rescued little Moshelle, would be given permanent status as a new immigrant to Israel. After all, she is the only person whom Moshelle knows. She is the only continuity that he has to the world from which he was so suddenly ejected. And so all the red tape has been waived, and she has been made a citizen of Israel -- with all the rights and privileges that go with that title.
 
And then the Prime Minister made a second announcement. He announced that he has been in touch with Yad Vashem, the Museum of the Holocaust, and it has been decided that a tree in her honor is going to be planted in the Garden of the Righteous of the Nations of the World, and that this is going to be done immediately.
 
Ordinarily, it takes many months before a person's status as a Righteous Gentile is determined. Survivors have to recommend a person, investigations have to be carried out, papers have to be filled out, witnesses have to be examined-- the process sometimes takes years to complete. But in this case, all those procedures were waived. After all, the whole world had witnessed what she did. The pictures of her, holding this little child, who had blood all over his face and all over his clothing, were on every single television screen in the world. And therefore, within twelve hours of Sandra Samuel's arrival in Israel , she was granted full and equal citizenship, and she was given a place of honor among Israel 's heroes.
 
And when I read that story in the newspapers the memory of another woman, who also rescued a Jewish child named Moshe, came back to my mind.
 
Do you know who it was?
 
It was the daughter of Pharaoh, whom we read about in today's Torah reading.
 
In the Torah itself she gets a very small part -- just one scene, just a couple of lines. But let me study the scene with you, as it is found in the Torah, and then let me study with you what happens to this woman in the Jewish imagination.
 
First, listen to the story as it is found in the Torah:
 
Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, 'Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?' And Pharaoh's daughter answered 'yes'. So the girl went and called the child's mother. And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, 'take this child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages'. So the woman took the child and nursed it. And when the child grew up -- I guess that means when it was weaned -- she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter who made him her son. She named him 'Moses', explaining. 'I drew him out of the water'."
 
That is all it says in the Torah. The Text leaves us with a bunch of questions. How did this woman defy her father's anger? He decreed that all Israelite boys were to be killed upon birth and she dared to save one? Why did she do it?  And how did she get the child into the palace? How did she explain where and how she had found the child? And how come neither she nor the sister nor the mother of Moses have a name in the story, and yet she is the one who gives Moshe his name?
 
And above all, whatever became of this woman who saved the life of Moshe Rabbeynu?
 
The Torah does not say. The Torah gives no answer to any of these questions, but the Midrash does. They say that she defied her father because she had a conscience. They say she got the child into the palace by making up a story about where she had found him. And the Sages give her a name, just as she gave Moshe a name. They name her 'Bithyah' or Batya, which means: Daughter of God. They claim that she was a prophet. And -- most important -- they claim that when the Israelites left Egypt , they took her along with them.
 
That is the Midrash that fascinates me the most. It fascinates me because of the parallel with what has happened in our time. For the Sages of the Midrash, the Israelites had to bring the daughter of Phara oh along with them, for to do anything less than that would be to be ungrateful. She had risked her life for them-- they had to show their gratitude to her.
 
Just as the government of Israel expressed its gratitude to Sandra Samuel for saving the life of the infant child, Moshe Holtzberg, by giving her a place of honor within Yad Vashem and in the state of Israel so the Sages of the Midrash picture the Israelites giving Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, a place of honor within the community when they left Egypt.
 
Why do I tell you these two stories today, one from the ancient past and one from the immediate present?
 
Because there are two important moral lessons that we need to learn from these women.
 
The first is that we are not alone and that it is not true that the whole world is against us. That is a distortion of the facts, and it does us no good to believe that.
 
And the second is that the Jewish people are grateful to those who befriend them.
 
We remember Hagar, the first surrogate mother in history, and the first woman to whom God spoke.
 
We remember Yitro, the father in law of Moses, who taught him how to govern effectively.
 
We remember Tamar, who kept the line of Judah alive and thereby become the ancestress of the Messiah.
 
We remember Asnat, the wife of Yosef, who is the mother of the two tribes of Israel , with whose names we bless our children every Friday night.
 
We remember Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who saved Moses, and was taken along to the Promised Land by our people.
 
We remember Shifra and Puah, the two Egyptian midwives, who refused to obey an immoral order, and saved the lives of many Israelite children.
 
We remember Rachav, 'the lady of the night', who helped the scouts of Joshua when Israel was about to enter the Promised Land.
 
We remember Hiram, King of Tyre, who built20the Holy Temple for Solomon.
 
We remember the sailors in the book of Jonah who feared God and tried to do what was right.
 
We remember Cyrus, King of Persia, who enabled our people to return to Israel and begin the Second Jewish State.
 
And in our time, we remember Arthur Balfour and Orde Wingate and Winston Churchill and Harry Truman and the other non Jews who helped to establish the state of Israel
 
We remember the Dutch family that gave shelter to Anne Frank and her family for such a long time at the risk of their own lives, and we remember the other Righteous Gentiles like them.
 
And now we add to the list the name of Sandra Samuel of Mumbai, now of Israel , who rescued two year old Moshe Holtzberg in our time, just as Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh rescued another Moshe at the beginning of our history.
 
May all of these heroes and heroines be blessed and remembered. May Sandra Samuel make a good klitah-- a good adjustment-- in the land of Israel May Moshe Holtzberg grow up to be a good Jew, whose life brings blessings to the memory of his parents.
 
And may all of us learn from these examples to appreciate and to honor and to be grateful to those who have good to us.
 
Amen.