Two women, connected by the children they saved

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 around 3,000 years old. The other woman is 45. 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 weeks 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 Rivkah Holtzberg in Mumbai. The Chabad house the Holtzbergs ran was targeted by terrorists who broke into the house, shooting as they came, and murdered the six people they found there.

Sandra Samuel, the Holtzbergs nanny of the Holtzberg’s 2-year-old son, Moshe, was asleep on the first floor of the Chabad house. When she heard the sound of shooting, she ran upstairs to see what was happening. She saw Rabbi and Mrs. Holtzberg and their guests lying on the floor, riddled with bullets, with Moshe sitting between his parents, crying. She picked up the child and ran down the stairs, past the terrorists, and out of the house. Sandra Samuel saved the baby’s life that day by her quick thinking and her bravery.

That day was Moshe’s birthday, but instead of having a party as planned, he became an orphan. All of us can remember that poignant picture of this child at the memorial service that was held at the synagogue the day after the slaughter. The picture is of a child, in his nanny’s arms, crying and screaming at the top of his lungs during the service.

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.

After the service, the government of Israel sent a military plane to Mumbai to bring the bodies home. There was a state funeral in Jerusalem before the bodies were buried at Kfar Chabad.

At this ceremony, the prime minister of Israel announced that Sandra Samuel, the nanny who rescued Moshe, would be given permanent status as a citizen of Israel. After all, she is the only person whom Moshe knows. She is the only continuity that he has to the world from which he was so suddenly ejected.

And then the prime minister made a second announcement. He announced that it has been decided that a tree in Samuel’s honor is going to be immediately planted in Yad Vashem’s Garden of the Righteous of the Nations of the World.

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 Samuel did.

When I read that story in the newspapers, the memory of another woman, who also rescued a Jewish child named Moshe, came to my mind. It was the daughter of Pharaoh.

In the Torah itself she gets a very small part — just one scene, just a couple of lines. As the story goes, Pharaoh’s daughter (she is given no name in the Torah) spots Moshe’s basket among the reeds while bathing in the Nile. She takes pity on it, assuming correctly that it is a Hebrew child. She then hires the infant’s real mother to nurse the child, and when he is old enough he goes to live with Pharaoh’s daughter, who gives him his name, Moshe.

The text leaves us with a bunch of questions. Why did this woman defy her father’s decree that all Israelite boys were to be killed upon birth? How did she explain where and how she had found the child? And how come she has no name in the story, yet she is the one who gives Moshe his name?

And above all, whatever became of this woman who saved the life of Moshe Rabbeinu?

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.

And, they claim, when the Israelites left Egypt they took her with them.

There are two important moral lessons that we can 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.

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 Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who saved Moses.

We remember Hiram, King of Tyre, who built the Holy Temple for Solomon.

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 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 2-year-old Moshe Holtzberg.

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 been good to us.

Rabbi Jack Riemer is the co-editor of “So That Your Values Live On,” a treasury of ethical wills, and the editor of “The World of the High Holy Days.”