Moses: From Water, Through Water, To Water

In the Jewish sources there is much talk about a person’s name containing his destiny in life

Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

We first encounter the name Moses (Moshe — pronounced “Moh-sheh”) in the Book of Exodus, when Pharaoh’s daughter finds the floating basket on the Nile River with a helpless baby inside. She adopts him and calls him Moses.

And she called his name Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:10)

The root of the word is M.Sh.H. [מ.ש.ה]. In other words: Moses was taken out, drawn out from the water; and this is the main reason for his name. In the Jewish sources there is much talk about a person’s name containing his destiny in life, and we can see the connection clearly throughout his story.

Water is an integral part of Moses’ life and death. He begins his life in the water. By being hidden in the waters of the Nile River, his life is saved. Moses’ meeting with Zipporah takes place at a water-well in the desert when she arrives with her sisters to water the flocks, and other shepherds there try to drive them away. Moses rescues them from the shepherds and waters the flocks (Exodus 16:22). This act grants him a home in the desert and Zipporah becomes his wife.

Water plays an important role in kicking off the Ten Plagues. And possibly the grandest miracle of all was the parting of the waters of the Red Sea done by God through Moses.

“Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide the water; And the children of Israel will go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:16)

This act cements Moses as leader over the people, and for the next 40 years that is the role he will perform. In the journeys of the people in the desert, water plays a major ongoing role. The people camp by water, trekking through the desert from oasis to oasis. When they can find no water Moses calls on God for help. God tells Moses to speak to the rock saying that water will come out of it, but Moses hits the rock instead of talking. Indeed, water gushes forth and saves the people.

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the congregation and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:11 NIV)

Because of his disobedience in how he brought forth water from the rock, Moses was punished and not allowed to enter the Land of Israel, dying just outside the Promised Land.

These are just a few highlights to show that the name Moses is inextricably linked to water. Water plays an important role in his birth, his life and even his death.

The name Moses became famous throughout the world and its religions: Moshe, Musa, Moses, Moise, Mozes. Many famous Israelites afterward were named Moshe: Moshe Dayan, Moshe Sharet, Rambam, Ramban and more.

I too have a personal association between Moses and water. In my childhood I had an Uncle Moses (Dod Moshe), a particularly beloved man. He was an engineer, and every year he would receive, as part of his work, the use of a villa in the Sharon area by the Mediterranean Sea. And all the extended family would go to spend a week by the water.

Moses = water = leadership.

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