One of the heroic figures who briefly appears in the Torah is Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh. Her only mention in the Torah is with regard to the pivotal moment in Jewish history when she drew baby Moses out of the river Nile. The Torah then describes how she sent Moses to be nursed by none other than his real mother, Yocheved, and then brought him back into the Palace to grow up as an honored Prince. The Sages provide us with a number of extra details about Batya which can help us develop a deeper understanding of her greatness.

The Torah tells us that the reason Batya was at the river was in order to wash herself. The Gemara in Sotah tells us that this was no normal washing; rather she went to immerse in the Nile to cleanse herself of the idols of her father.(1) Rashi explains this to mean that she was actually converting to the Jewish people.(2) Given the context of the times that seems like an astounding act of rebellion against the values and attitudes of the Egyptian nation and Pharaoh, her own father! Moreover, the Jewish people were in the most unenviable situation imaginable at this point in their history. Mired in a never-ending slavery to the cruel Egyptians, one cannot imagine that many Egyptians would like to have joined this forlorn nation at this point. All the more so would this be the case with regard to someone in the position of Batya who was the daughter of the most powerful man of the most powerful nation in the world!

The Gemara continues its account of what happened when Moshe appeared in the river. It tells us that when Batya saw him she wanted to save him. Realizing that he was obviously a Jewish boy, Batya's attendants tried to prevent her; they argued, "the way of the world is that if a King makes decrees then even if the whole world does not follow them, but at least his own children should follow them; yet you are transgressing the decree of your father!" (3) The attendants had a very simple argument; that Batya should show loyalty to her father and follow his decrees. Yet Batya did not listen to their entreaties, rather she greatly exerted herself to save the Jewish baby. This indicates that Batya possessed a pervading sense of the moral course of action even when it contradicted the moral imperative to obey one's father.

The Midrash develops further our understanding of the qualities of this unique woman. In the Book of Chronicles we are told that Batya married a man by the name of Mered. The Midrash tells us that Mered was none other than Kaleb Ben Yefunneh, the man most famous for being one of the two spies who withstood the arguments of the ten spies who spoke badly about the land of Israel. Why, then, does the Prophet call him Mered whose root means rebel? The Midrash answers; "he rebelled against the spies and she rebelled against the counsel of her father. Let the rebel come and marry the rebel." (4) Again, we see the Sages emphasizing the rebellious nature of Batya, but how this nature was applied in a righteous way, to the extent that she is compared to the highly admirable 'rebel', Kalev, who overcame great pressure to act in the correct way.

These sayings of the Sages teach us how Batya epitomized the quality of going against the beliefs and actions of the society in which she grew up. In this way she emulated the first Jew, Abraham, who rejected the values of the society he grew up in order to follow the true path. Batya emulated Abraham in a further sense, as well; in the course of Abraham's rebellion he even acted in a seemingly disobedient manner towards his father, Terach who owned an idol store. The well-known Midrash tells us how Abraham destroyed all but one of his father's idols and then claimed that the biggest idol destroyed the others, thereby exposing the foolishness of his father's belief system.

We know that honoring one's parents is a fundamental concept according to the Torah so how could Abraham act in such a seemingly disrespectful fashion? The answer is that honoring one's parents does not mean that one is obligated to follow in their lifestyle if it is incongruent with following God's will. Indeed Jewish law clearly states that whilst a child must listen to his parent's requests, this is not the case if they command him to do something that contradicts the Torah. Accordingly, Abraham was correct in rejecting his father's values and exposing their fallacies, because that was God's will.

In the same way, Batya recognized that in the situation she was in - of seeing a Jewish baby stranded in the river - that the morally correct course of action was to go against her father's decree and to save the baby. Indeed, her rejection of her father's belief system was not limited to this single action. The fact that she later married Kalev means that she certainly converted to Judaism. Indeed the Midrash reveals to us how God Himself viewed Batya: "Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Batya, daughter of Pharaoh, 'Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You too, are not my daughter, but I shall call you My daughter', As it is written: 'These are the sons of Batya' [which means] daughter of God." (5)

We have seen how Batya merited to join the Jewish people and be called God's daughter, because of her brave commitment to following God even when it meant disobeying her mighty father and rejecting his value system. This provides a vital lesson to all of us. The Torah does place great emphasis on the importance of honoring and listening to one's parents, however that is only within the boundaries of the Torah. Once the lifestyle and commands of one's parents deviate from the Torah, then the child is obligated to follow the Torah. This is particularly relevant to people from non-observant backgrounds who face the challenge of family opposition to adoption of a Torah lifestyle. However, in truth, honoring one's parents does not include making the life decisions that they want their child to make, rather one must search for the truth independent of his upbringing.(6) May we all merit to emulate Batya in our search for truth.

NOTES

1. Sotah,12b.

2. This could not refer to a genuine conversion because the Jewish people themselves 'converted' at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

3. Sotah, 12b.

4. Vayikra Rabbah, 1:3.

5. Vayikra Rabbah, 1:3.

6. Needless to say that if a person does change his lifestyle in a way that may not please his parents, then one must nevertheless act towards them with respect and understanding. In this vein it is essential for any prospective 'baal teshuva' to follow advice from a competent Rabbinic authority in how to make the transition without causing undue pain or discord to one's family and friends.