Friday, January 4, 2013

Shemos - A Man Married a Woman...

In Parshas Shemos the Torah tells us the story of the birth of Moses, the savior of the Jewish people; the man who would lead them out of Egyptian slavery, who would bring them to a national revelation at Mt. Sinai, and who would lead them for forty years in the wilderness, teaching them God's Torah. The man whom, the Torah tells us, was both the humblest man and the greatest prophet of all time.

We would expect that this account would be one of drama and miracles, yet the Torah tells us the story in the simplest of possible terms (Exodus 2:1-2):
And a man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son....
A man married a woman and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. A more ordinary story could not be told.

Yet, in reality, the Sages tell us that there was a great deal of drama to this story. Moses was not from an ordinary Levite family. As the Torah tells us (Exodus 6:20), Moses was the son of Amram, the grandson of Levi and, the Sages tell us, the leader of the generation, and Jochebed, a daughter of Levi. Amram and Jochebed had been previously married (as we know from the fact that Moses had two older siblings, Aaron and Miriam), but in the face of the decree to cast all male children into the river, Amram had separated from her, and his example had been followed by the rest of the Jewish people. The Sages tell us that this continued until Miriam, Amram's daughter, said to her father, "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's! For Pharaoh has decreed only against the males, but you have decreed on both the males and the females!" Amram accepted this criticism and remarried Jochebed. As R' Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:
R' Samson Raphael Hirsch
In such times courage was required to become a father or a mother. So it does not say, ויהי איש מבית לוי ויקח וגו' ("And there was a man from the house of Levi that married...") but וילך וגו' ("And he went..."). In this וילך lies the whole great resolution that was necessary for taking such a step.
Note further, that it does not say, ויקח בת לוי ("and he took a daughter of Levi") but ויקח את בת לוי ("and he took the daughter of Levi"), i.e. one who was already definitely known. In any case we know from the sequel that when this occurred, the couple had been married previously. A sister was already there and this sister had already a brother. All this tells us what our Sages say, viz. that this was not their first marriage, but that a man who had separated from his wife in consideration of the King's cruel order, made up his mind to take her back again to oppose this order.
Yet, despite this, the Torah tells us the story in exceptionally sparse and simple terms. We are not even told the names of the parents, only their tribe. Why does the Torah do this?

In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz (d.1946) writes:
The explicit language in these two verses brings out an important characteristic of Judaism. In other religions, the founders are represented as of supernatural birth. Not so in Judaism. Even Moses is human as to birth, as also in regard to death (Deut. 34:5).
R' Hertz sees in the simple and straightforward language of the Torah an apparently simple lesson that is actually of profound importance. Judaism emphasizes the human nature of its founders and leaders, and does not see this as in any way diminishing their stature. An "ordinary" child of "ordinary" parents can grow up to reach the highest levels of spirituality. (This point is also made, and developed at some length, by R' Yaakov Kamenetsky in Emes L'Yakov.)

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin (d.1966) sees a related idea in the omission of the names of the parents. If the Torah had stated their names at this point, we might have thought that Amram and Jochebed were somehow predestined to be the parents of the savior of the Jewish people. By omitting the names, however, the Torah teaches us that any righteous Jewish man can be the father, and any righteous Jewish woman the mother, of the savior of the Jewish people.

The Torah tells us the story of Moses' birth in these simple terms, "a man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi", to teach us to recognize the significance of a Jewish man and woman coming together in marriage and raising a family. To teach us that, ultimately, every Jewish family has the ability to bring about the salvation of the Jewish people.

No comments: