An astonishing thing is often overlooked in this week’s Torah portion of Shemos, when Pharaoh’s daughter did something akin to Avraham Avinu. While totally steeped in the idolatry and black magic for which the Egyptian culture was known, she, completely independently, found G-D and denounced idolatry. This is why “she just happened” to be by the Nile River, in the right place at the right time, as Baby Moses was floating down the river in a basket. Indeed, this is why she is known as Basya, Daughter of G-D. The Torah relates: “Pharaohs daughter went down to bathe by the River and her maidens walked along the River. She saw the basket among the reeds and she sent her maidservant and she took it” (Shemos 2:5).
The Gemara in Sotah 12b elaborates about what exactly took place at the time: “The verse states: ‘And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe [lirḥotz] in the river’ (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: This teaches that she came down to the river to cleanse herself from the impurity of her father’s idols, as she was immersing herself as part of the conversion process. And similarly it states: ‘When the Lord shall have washed [raḥatz] away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of destruction’ (Isaiah 4:4). This washing clearly refers to the purging of spiritual sins, rather than bathing for the sake of cleanliness. The verse continues: ‘And her maidens walked along [holekhot] by the riverside’ (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yoḥanan says: This walking is nothing other than the terminology of going toward death, and similarly it states: ‘Behold, I am going [holekh] to die’ (Genesis 25:32). The verse continues: “And she saw the ark among the willows” (Exodus 2:5). Once her maidens saw that the daughter of Pharaoh was intending to save Moses, they said to her: Our mistress, the custom of the world is that when a king of flesh and blood decrees a decree, even if all the world does not fulfill it, at least his children and members of his household fulfill it, and yet you are violating the decree of your father. After the maidens tried to convince her not to save Moses, the angel Gabriel came and beat them to the ground and they died. The verse concludes: “And she sent amatah to take it” (Exodus 2:5). Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Neḥemya disagree as to the definition of the word “amatah.” One says that it means her arm, and one says that it means her maidservant. The Gemara explains: The one who says that it means her arm explained it in this manner, as it is written “amatah,” which denotes her forearm. And the one who says that it means her maidservant explained it in this manner because it does not explicitly write the more common term: Her hand [yadah]. Therefore, he understands that this is the alternative term for a maidservant, ama. The Gemara asks: And according to the one who says that it means her maidservant, didn’t you say earlier: Gabriel came and beat them to the ground and the maidservants died, so how could Pharaoh’s daughter send her? The Gemara answers: It must be that Gabriel left her one maidservant, as it is not proper that a princess should stand alone.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The life of Moshe Rabbeinu, which means the future of the Jewish People and in fact the whole world, hung in the balance. Would he be saved or not? Pharaoh’s daughter saw the child floating down the river and wanted to save him. Her companions tried to stop her, but the angel Gavriel struck them dead. The Tanna who said that she stuck out her hand and brought in the basket obviously was learning that there was an open miracle performed, by her arm stretching many amos, or cubits, long in order to save Moshe. However, according to the other opinion, Moshe being saved was relatively within the boundaries of nature beside the angel Gabriel’s intervention. That being the case, why then was one maidservant left alive simply because it is improper for a princess to be left alone? Wasn’t there a chance that the last maidservant might dissuade her from saving the baby? Granted, at this moment, she was making a statement, separating herself from her father’s idolatrous way of life, essentially at risk of leaving the palace all together; but it still must have been a very highly sensitive emotional time, especially with her entire entourage mysteriously dropping dead on the banks besides her. Why take the risk and leave one alive? Because that’s proper manners? If she can potentially be the one to convince her to turn back then any hope of saving Klal Yisrael might be all over!
Imagine if The G-D of Legions, King of All Kings, The Holy One Blessed Be He, lihavdil, was in His war room with the angel Gabriel and they were strategizing a mission of how to best save Moshe Rabbeinu from drowning in the Nile and saving the entire Jewish People. This would have ramifications for the entire world’s existence, for if the Jewish People would not have been redeemed from Egypt to get to Har Sinai in order to accept Hashem’s Torah, then Hashem would have destroyed the world. So there was a lot on the line. Hashem decided to conduct things within the natural realm of the world and he warned Gabriel that he could take out all of Basya’s friends besides one, because it would be a lack of proper respect for a princess to be left alone. So now that she had her one maidservant, the maidservant could go and fetch the basket, using normal means of saving Klal Yisrael, and no massive miracle had to take place. But why risk the chance of saving one maidservant just because it is improper to leave her alone? The world was hanging in the balance; why is derech eretz, proper manners, taken into account at such a delicate time as this? Gabriel should not have taken any risks, wiped them all out, and ,if need be, since there was no other means of saving Moshe, then there is no choice but to rely on a miracle! But now that he had to take proper manners into account and must save one of them, it then put everything back into the rule and order of nature, and there is a slight risk that the whole mission might fall apart. Was it really worth even taking a slight risk like that during such an important mission?
The answer is YES! We see to what extent one has to treat another person with the proper respect he or she deserves, no matter what the dire situation anyone is in. Derech Eretz Kodmah LiTorah, proper manners supersedes the Torah! In this case it means that respecting others status comes before rational logic of getting things done properly without taking any risks even at such an ominous time in history!