The Torah in Parashat Shemot (2:1) tells of the marriage of Moshe’s parents, who are later identified as Amram and Yokheved. The Gemara in Masekhet Sota (12a) comments that the Torah here actually refers to Amram and Yokheved’s remarriage. Amram had decided to divorce Yokheved after Pharaoh decreed that every newborn Israelite boy should die, figuring there was no longer any purpose in building families. The Gemara tells that Amram was an influential religious leader, and thus after he divorced Yokheved, many others followed suit and divorced. Miriam, Amram’s daughter, boldly criticized her father for his drastic measure, charging, “Your decree is worse than Pharaoh’s – for Pharaoh decreed only upon the boys, but you decreed upon the males and the females.” She further noted that by preventing children from being born, Amram was preventing souls from entering this world and entering the afterlife. Amram accepted his daughter’s protest and remarried Yokheved, whereupon the other couples likewise reunited.
We might wonder why Amram at first decided to divorce and then changed his mind. Did he truly never consider his daughter’s arguments? Could he have been oblivious to the fact that he was causing the end of all reproduction among Benei Yisrael?
One explanation, perhaps, is that Amram did not anticipate the widespread effects of his personal decision. From the Gemara’s account it appears that Amram did not instruct or advise people to divorce, but simply made this personal decision for himself, feeling emotionally unable to continue building a family. However, due to his influence, many others followed his example and divorced. Miriam thus brought to his attention the fact that his decision was not just affecting their family, but rather threatened the nation’s entire future. This is something that Amram had not considered when making his private, personal decision, and once Miriam alerted him to the grave repercussions of this drastic measure, he changed his mind.
If so, then this incident reminds us that often our private, personal decisions can have a widespread effect. As Jews, we live not only as individuals, but also as part of communities and part of the Jewish Nation. This “membership” offers us many benefits, but also imposes upon us many responsibilities, including the responsibility of influence. The decisions we make, the way we conduct our personal affairs, has an impact upon others, to one extent or another. The story of Amram alerts us to the need to carefully consider the possible ripple effects of our actions and decisions, and to ensure to set a positive example for the people around us to emulate.