MOSHE'S FAMILY LIST

  • Rav Yaakov Beasley

INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA

 

PARASHAT VAERA

 

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In memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner

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MOSHE'S FAMILY LIST

 

By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley

 

 

A.        INTRODUCTION

 

After the first failed confrontation with Pharaoh, Moshe challenges Hashem:  "Why have you brought evil on this people?"  The response comes quickly.  Finally, God outlines to Moshe the full nature of his mission, revealing information that he was not told at the burning bush. 

 

The Torah informed the reader of the full breadth of Hashem's decision to intervene at the end of chapter 2:   

 

23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.

24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew of them.

 

Four verbs are used to describe Hashem's actions:  to hear, to see, to remember, and to know.  However, when we examine the first confrontation between Hashem and Moshe at the burning bush in chapter 3, we note the following:

 

7 And Hashem said: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their pains.

8 And I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good and large land, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Yevusite.

9 And now, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto Me; moreover I have seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.

 

What is missing from Hashem's words to Moshe?  Here, only three verbs are mentioned: to hear, to see, and to know.  Lacking from this statement is any mention of the covenant between Hashem and his people.  Instead, Moshe's mission is solely a mission of mercy, a humanitarian undertaking.  Therefore, all Moshe can ask for from Pharoah is a lessening of the burden of the long-suffering slaves - a three day retreat into the desert. Moshe is not told that his taking the Jewish people out of Egypt is more than simply challenging injustice, while in truth it is nothing less than the fulfillment of the historical covenant between God and the forefathers.  

 

It is only at the beginning of our parasha that Hashem informs Moshe of the full breadth of his mission:

 

2 And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: "I am Hashem.

3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob as God Almighty, but by My name YHWH I did not make known to them.

4 And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, wherein they sojourned.

5 And moreover, I have heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.

 

Finally, the words missing from the original command appear.  Through Moshe, Hashem will fulfill his part of the "berit bein ha-betarim," the covenant between the parts.  The slavery will end, and the people will receive their reward:  "And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage; I am Hashem."   

 

B.        THE STRUCTURE OF THE LIST

 

At the conclusion of this dramatic speech, Moses turns to Hashem and expresses his concern once again that due to his inability to speak clearly, he is unable to complete the monumental task ahead:

 

12 And Moshe spoke before Hashem, saying: "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how, then, shall Pharaoh hear me, who is of uncircumcised lips?"

Suddenly, the story interrupts the narrative with a partial listing of Moshe's ancestry.  When the narrative resumes in verse 30, the Torah repeats the statement almost verbatim.  Dealing with the apparent redundancy, Rashi comments: "This statement (pasuk 30) is the same statement mentioned above (pasuk 12)... it was repeated at this point because of the interruption...." Why, however, was the narrative interrupted at all? 

 

Rashi (6:14) also notes that the genealogical survey is incomplete. Apparently, the Torah was interested not in the lineage of the entire Jewish people, but fundamentally in the family background of Moshe and Aharon. Therefore, although beginning with a brief account of the family of Reuven and Shimon, there is a detailed discussion of the household of Levi, with a comprehensive account of Moshe and Aharon's family.

 

This observation, however, does not solve our problem; it merely redirects it. Why provide Moshe and Aharon's lineage here?  This information could have been given at the beginning of chapter 2; instead, Moshe is first introduced to us anonymously as the child of a mysterious "ish mi-beit Levi," "a man from the house of Levi" (2:1).  Other chapters would also have been more suitable, such as chapter 4, wherein Moshe returns to Bnei Yisrael in Egypt, or chapter 7, following Moshe's dialogue with Hashem. 

 

The interruption in mid-discussion, which forces the Torah to repeat Moshe's statement in order to pick up the story thread, is so odd and out of place that it demonstrates the necessity of noting Moshe's family background at this particular juncture. To understand what purpose this interruption serves, we must identify the structure of the verses that surround it:

 

A. 12 And Moses spoke before Hashem, saying: "Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who is of uncircumcised lips?"

B. 13 And Hashem spoke unto Moses and Aaron,

 

C.  and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt,

 

D. to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

E.  GENEALOGICAL LIST OF MOSHE'S FAMILY

 

14 These are the heads of their fathers' houses: the sons of Reuven the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. These are the families of Reuven ... 25 And Eleazar, Aaron's son, took himself one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife; and she bore him Pinchas. These are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites according to their families.

D'.  26 These are the Aaron and Moshe to whom Hashem said: "Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts."

 

C'.  27 These are they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt.

 

B'. it was Moshe and Aaron …

28 … on the day when Hashem spoke unto Moshe in the land of Egypt

A'.  30 And Moshe said before Hashem: "Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?"

 

The verses are clearly organized in a chiasm, with the reader's attention drawn to the list in the center.  What purpose does the placement of the genealogy serve?  By comparing between the axes, we discover that several possible options emerge:  (1) The text names Aaron for the first time as an equal co-recipient of the Divine charge to face Pharaoh.  As such, his lineage, not discussed previously, needs explicating.   (2)  The list foreshadows the leading role that the Levites will play in the Exodus narrative and afterwards.  (3)  Given the overwhelming importance of the genealogical lists in structuring Sefer Bereishit, we may suggest that the chiasm here creates a literary effect. Whenever a list appeared in Sefer Bereishit, it served as a marker that identified the separation of those people destined to fade away from the historical spotlight from those destined to serve as the bearers of the Divine message.  From the time of the entry of the Israelites into Egypt, we wondered who would serve as Hashem's new messenger.  The placement of a genealogy here identifies Moshe and Aaron as those messengers.

 

C.        WHAT HAPPENED TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE

 

Having noted the central role of Moses and Aaron's genealogy, we may note several subtle yet significant changes between the account before and after the list.  Most significantly, we note the disappearance or marginalization of the children of Israel from the descriptions of Moshe's mission and from Moshe's hesitations:

 

BEFORE:

The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech (6:12).

AFTER:

See, I am of impeded speech; how then should Pharaoh heed me (6:30).

 

So Hashem Spoke to both Moshe and Aharon in regard to the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt (6:13).

It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians (6:27).

 

The parallels between the first and second units of the story highlight the disappearance of Bnei Yisrael from the narrative and the transition to a one-dimensional mission. In this pivotal chapter, a new phase in the story of the Exodus opens as we shift away from Bnei Yisrael to focus exclusively on the central figures of Moshe and Aharon, God, and Pharaoh.  Why? 

 

Originally, the people trusted and accompanied Moshe: "And the people were convinced when they heard that Hashem had taken note of the Israelites... they bowed low in homage."  However, after the joint delegation to Pharaoh not only failed to secure their release, but backfired with the new decree to gather their own straw, the people's faith disintegrates into frustrated accusation: "May Hashem look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers."  Right before the chiasm above, the Torah informs us, "As their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage, they [Bnei Yisrael] would not listen to Moshe."  Some people may grow in faith when faced by crisis; here, the people were shattered instead.  Until Chapter 12, when at the climax of the plagues the people are commanded to perform circumcisions on themselves and offer the Paschal lamb, Bnei Yisrael disappear from the narrative completely.[1] 

 

We may suggest that Hashem hoped that the process of the Exodus would not only involve the downfall of the Egyptians, but raising the Jewish people from the depths in which they dwelt.  However, with their accompanying loss of faith, only one goal could be accomplished – the physical destruction of the Egyptian taskmasters.  Only when that occurred could Hashem and Moshe concentrate on creating a people of free men.[2]

 



[1] The prophet Ezekiel describes the people's failure to rise to the occasion as a form of idolatry:

That same day I swore to them to take them out of the land of Egypt... I also said to them - "Cast away, every one of you, all the detestable things that you are drawn to, and do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt - I the Lord am your God."  But they defied Me and refused to listen to Me... Then I resolved to pour out My fury upon them, to vent all My anger upon them there, in the land of Egypt.  But I acted for the sake of My name…( 20:6-9).

[2] Rav Ezra Bick, in an earlier shiur on Parashat Vaera, suggests a similar theme (http://www.vbm-torah.org/parsha/14vaera.htm); Rav Bick, however, suggests that Moshe works to achieve the two goals simultaneously through different means: 

Here God explains the answer. God tells Moshe that indeed he has two missions. God charges Moshe to speak to both to the Pharaoh and the Jewish people, in both cases "to take the children of Israel out of Egypt" (6,13). There is a mission to the Jews, not only to keep them informed, but to take them out, to emancipate them. How will this be done? Here God's answer is different than Moshe's assumption. Moshe will directly act only in regard to Pharaoh. He will not persuade Pharaoh by dint of the power of his possibility. "I shall harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt" (7:3). Moshe is not going to persuade Pharaoh; God is going to crush Pharaoh, slowly, publicly. We do not find Moshe speaking to the Jews again about how they will be free, trying to inspire them. The liberation of the Jews will be accomplished by their witnessing the drawn-out victory of God over the power of Pharaoh, his magic and his God's. The destruction of Egyptian might, the humbling of the sources of its power, will liberate the spirits of the slaves. Moshe has a dual goal, but only one means. Practically, God tells Moshe always to go and speak to Pharaoh, but that act will have meaning on the one hand on the political level of Moshe vs. Pharaoh, and secondly on the socio- psychological level of the Jews vs. their masters.