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I have a question concerning a phrase in Exo. 2:2.

Hebrew text:

וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי טוֹב הוּא וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים

English translation:

And the woman conceived and bore a child, and she saw him that he was good, and she hid him three months.

"And she saw him that he was good" (וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי טוֹב הוּא) seems to be an explanation for the consequent action (of Moses' mother), "and she hid him three months."

What does "he was good" mean, and how did Moses' mother see that "he was good," thus causing her to hide him?

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After doing some research, it seems that the adjective טוֹב (tov) is sometimes used in reference to people in a manner referring other than to a personality trait (i.e., "kind").

For example, in Gen. 6:2, it is written,

And the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that that they were [טֹבֹת], and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ

טֹבֹת is the plural feminine declension of the adjective טוֹב. It is being used to describe בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם (the daughters of men) as physically attractive (beautiful; fair), thus compelling the sons of God to take them as wives.(1) Gen. 6:2 contains the same basic syntactical structure as Exo. 2:2 (concerning the adjective טוֹב):

[subject] + verb רָאָה + direct object + conjunction כִּי + adjective טוֹב + pronoun

  • Gen. 6:2

וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה

  • Exo. 2:2

וַתֵּרֶא אֹתֹו כִּי טֹוב הוּא

Therefore, in the case of Moses, his mother saw (with her eyes) that he was physically attractive or beautiful (טוֹב), so she hid him three months. Unfortunately, the text doesn't offer any insight as to why his physical attractiveness persuaded her to choose a particular course of action, or what she would have done had he not been physically attractive.


Footnotes

(1) Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, including the Biblical Chaldee. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1857. On טוֹב, p. 318, §2. [source]

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  • Mike - Would you also consider Heb 11:23 in this regard as well? – Joseph Nov 6 '14 at 14:06
  • I would, but it seems the trend when discussing a particular verse from Tanakh is to avoid involving the NT. – user862 Nov 6 '14 at 17:06
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    In my opinion (and it's only my opinion), you'd be fine to consider the perspective of Hebrews here, basically using it as a secondary text valuable for understanding Exodus. This doesn't require the sort of Truth-based connection that can be problematic. – Susan Nov 6 '14 at 23:56
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Interesting question. Rashi gives us unrelated answers to each question. First, citing a midrash contained in the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12a, and in Exodus Rabbah 1:20, a miracle occurred when Moses was born and that the house was suddenly filled with light. Second, citing the same sources, Rashi explains that the Egyptians would observe women and count the months of their pregancy so they could search for baby boys born after the normal nine months. His mother hid her pregancy and gave birth after six months. After that she hid him until it was no longer possible, at age 3 months. See Sotah 12a for a more complete explanation.

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  • Thanks Bruce James. Not sure this totally answers the questions asked. I mean, is there something that offers the peshat understanding of the phrase וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי טוֹב הוּא? – user862 Nov 5 '14 at 23:08
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ṭōḇ means “good”, as Gesenius or any other dictionary will tell you. It is part of the core vocabulary of Hebrew. Depending on the context you can also render it as “good looking”, “virtuous” or whatever, but the basic meaning is perfectly clear. This problem here is not linguistic, but it is about understanding the story, which seems to imply that if Moses had not been “good” (KJV: “goodly”) his mother would not have hidden him away but allowed the Pharaoh’s men to kill him. What mother would do that?

I have not (admittedly) answered the question, but I hope that I have helped to problematize it.

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