What Was Moses’ Real Name?

MOSES-SS-2014

Question:

If you have ever read the story of Moses, you will remember that the name ‘Moses’ is the name given by Pharaoh’s daughter to the infant that she “drew from the water.” Doesn’t this imply that Pharaoh’s daughter spoke Hebrew? Therefore, if Moses was given by the daughter of Pharaoh, then what name did Moses’ parents give him?

Answer:

According to Chizkuni,1 it was actually Moses’ biological mother, Jochebed, who gave Moses (משה) his name. Jochebed later told Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithiah, the child’s Hebrew name, and so Bithiah also called him by this name, remarking that this name was indeed appropriate, since she had drawn2 him out of the water.

Ibn Ezra3 says that Bithiah gave Moses the Egyptian name Munius, which theTorah translates into Hebrew as Moshe (Moses). Alternatively, Ibn Ezrasuggests the possibility that Bithiah actually had learnt to speak Hebrew, and it was she who gave Moses his Hebrew name. This latter explanation is also given by other commentators.

Interestingly, Yalkut Shimoni4 says that Moses was called by no less than ten names:

  1. Yered (ירד), implying “descent.” According to one opinion, Miriam gave him this name, for because of him she went down (yarad) to the Nile to see what would become of him. Alternatively, Moses was called this name because he brought the Torah down to the Jewish people, and the Divine Presence back down to this physical world.
  2. Avigdor (אבי גדור), “master of the fence.” According to Me’am Loez he was called this (by his grandfather Kehat), because “since Moses’ birth,G‑d has fenced in Pharaoh, not allowing him to continue his decree to drown Jewish infants.”
  3. Chever (חבר), “companion” or “connector.” Either because Moses connected the Jewish people with their heavenly Father, or because he prevented (העביר, phonetically similar to חבר) heavenly retribution for their sins. Some say that Amram, his father, gave Moses this name, because Moses was born after his father had once again joined his wife after having divorced her.
  4. Avi Socho (אבי סוכו), “Father of Seers.” He was given this name by his grandfather Kehat (alternatively, by the nurse who helped Moses’ mother raise him), because Moses would grow up to be the “master” (avi) of the seers (sochim) and prophets.
  5. Yekutiel (יקותיא‑ל), from the root kavei (קוה), meaning “hope.” His mother, Jochebed, called him this name because she had hope and trust in G‑d that He would return Moses to her. Alternatively, because she foresaw that Moses would be the Jewish nation’s great hope.
  6. Avi Zanoach (אבי זנוח), literally, “master of rejection.” Aaron, Moses’ brother, gave him this name, saying, “My father rejected my mother, but took her back because of this child.” Alternatively, because Moses would make Israel reject idols.
  7. Toviah (טובי‑ה), implying “goodness.”5
  8. The Jewish people called him “Shemayah (שמעי‑ה) ben [the son of] Nethanel.”6 They predicted that in his days, G‑d would hear (שמע) their prayers.
  9. Ben Evyatar (בן אביתר), “son of pardon,” since Moses was the Jewish son who would solicit G‑d’s pardon (ויתר) for the Jewish people’s sin of the Golden Calf.
  10. Levi (לוי), so named after the tribe to which Moses belonged.

Despite all these names, throughout the Torah, he is referred to as Moses. Moreover, G‑d Himself addresses Moses only by this name.7 Our sages tell us that this teaches us the importance of raising a child, especially when doing so requires special self-sacrifice.

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