Last week’s Parsha, Shemot, ended off with the “complaint” of Moshe to Hashem following the failure of Moshe’s first encounter with Par’oh. As we know, the response of Par’oh to Moshe’s initial request to let Bnei Yisrael go on a three day pilgrimage resulted in Par’oh’s hardening the burden of labor on his Israelite slaves. After encountering the Israelite taskmasters and hearing their accusations, Moshe turns to Hashem and say’s:
“O Hashem! Why have You harmed this people? Why have You sent me. Since I have come to Par’oh to speak in Your name, he has harmed this people, and You have not saved Your people.”
The response of Hashem to these words of Moshe starts with the last verses of last week’s Parsha and continues with the first seven verses of this week’s Parsha. In these verses Hashem recalls the revelation to the Avot and lays out the plan and purpose of the oncoming redemption. Despite Hashem’s reply to Moshe, after Moshe relates these words to Bnei Yisrael the response is:
“Moshe spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor.”
At this point Hashem tells Moshe to go to Par’oh in order that he, Par’oh, will send Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, and this is indeed what Moshe does, starting from Chapter 7 all the way through to next week’s Parsha which takes us through the Ten Plagues and culminates with the Exodus in chapter 12.
However, here in chapter 6, just before the Torah proceeds on this path, there is an interruption in the narrative. At this point the Torah devotes 15 verses to tracing the genealogy of Moshe and Aharon. In fact, the genealogical information starts first with Re’uven and Shim’on and then moves on to Levi describing the precise ancestry of Moshe andAharon.
This digression from the narrative obviously raises a lot of questions.
Apparently we already know who Moshe and Aharon are. True, we do not yet know who their immediate family is, but we do know that they are from the tribe of Levi. If it is important to know their exact ancestry, why wasn’t that stated right from the outset, from Moshe’s birth? Why now, at this moment, is this information important?
If the Torah wants now to reveal this information, why is it necessary to mention the families of Re’uven and Shimon as well?
As could be expected, these questions were addressed and answered by many of the commentators, both earlier and later.
The Sforno claims that the point being made is that the choice of Moshe and Aharon was not without first searching for a redeemer amongst the first two elder tribes of Bnei Yisrael. Only after a leader was not found amongst Re’uven and Shimon, were Moshe and Aharon chosen from the next tribe, Levi. The question remains though, why is this important now and not at the time of the birth of Moshe?
The Malbim asserts that this information is appropriate now as this is the point where Moshe and Aharon are “officially” appointed for their mission.
Various other explanations have been suggested by other commentators. Probably one of the most well-known explanations is that of Rav Shimshon Refa’el Hirsch. Rav Hirsch writes in his commentary on Chumash that it is precisely at this moment, just before Moshe and Aharon start the miraculous process of the redemption, the Torah wants to “remind” us that despite the events that are about to follow, Moshe and Aharon were human beings! They were instrumental in causing miracles and wonders, but they were still human beings. The purpose of the Torah is to strongly negate the tendency of people and certain religions to deify their heroes. Thus the Torah is reminding us that, everyone knew Moshe and Aharon, knew their parents, their siblings, their aunts and uncles and the whole family too. There were no “angels” or gods that became human and did miracles; it was all Moshe and Aharon that everyone knew. A very important message indeed.
A few years ago when learning this parsha and these specific verses in my chumash shiur, we were confounded by a comment of Rashi. Our search in class to resolve this Rashi, resulted not only in clarifying the Rashi, but also produced a new understanding of this entire section and it’s meaning at this stage of the narrative.
After the Torah concludes tracing the genealogy of Moshe and Aharon the Torah says:
“That is Aharon and Moses, to whom the Lord said, “Take the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt with their legions.”
On the words “That is Aaron and Moses” Rashi comments:
“That is Aaron and Moses: Who are mentioned above [verse 20], whom Yocheved bore to Amram, [these two] are [the same] Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, etc.”
This seems to be an extremely peculiar and unnecessary comment of Rashi. This whole section is explaining the lineage of Moshe and Aharon, and clearly laid out how they were born to Yocheved and Amram. There are no other Moshe and Aharon with whom we could confuse them, so what is Rashi clarifying by this comment?
At the time, I recall devoting hours to this Rashi. I searched tens of different commentaries on Rashi, from the most well-known, to ones I discovered for the first time. Almost all of them were troubled by this Rashi and the solutions were many and diverse and even extended to suggestions of misprints in the Rashi.
In my desperation, after “googling” this Rashi, I eventually opened a link to a page of “Likutei Sichot” of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe who quotes this Rashi in a lengthy essay which appeared online in Yiddish! Despite my minimal understanding of Yiddish, it was clear that the Rebbe was addressing the difficulties in the Rashi. I soon discovered that these volumes of Likutei Sichot had been translated into Hebrew, so I hurried to the Chabad library/bookstore on
Straus Streetin Yerushalayim and sat down there to read the article. It was then that I was first exposed to the amazing world of the late Rebbe’s way of learning Rashi. It is well known that almost all great learners and commentators of chumash have an extremely meticulous approach to learning Rashi, however in the Rebbe’s sichot one is exposed to levels of exactitude which are possibly unparalleled in other commentators of Rashi. I’m sharing this experience with you for the benefit of those who are learners of Rashi and are sometimes baffled by a comment of his. The Rebbe’s Likutei Sichot are an additional and very unique resource for exploring the depths of Rashi on Chumash.
Anyway, back to our Parsha. Without going into the intricacies of the Rebbe’s entire Sicha, he explains that Rashi in his comment was actually addressing, amongst other issues, the question as to why the Torah deems important the genealogy of Moshe and Aharon. The answer to that question is given in the above quoted verse. “That is Aaron and Moses, to whom the Lord said, “Take the children of Israel out etc.” On that Rashi says “whom Yocheved bore to Amram“, and that explains why Moshe and Aharon were chosen. Moshe and Aharon were who they were, because they were born to and brought up by Yocheved and Amram. It is the same Yocheved who not only defied the order of Par’oh to kill the male infants, but even did the utmost to ensure their survival. They are also the sons of Amram who ignored the decree of Par’oh to kill the males, and reunited with his wife to have a child. Moshe and Aharon are the children of people who did what it took and beyond, in very precarious circumstances, to ensure the welfare and endurance of their nation. It is possible as well that the other people mentioned in this section of the genealogy were also well known to Bnei Yisrael as people of virtue that enabled the birth and rise of Moshe and Aharon. Turns out, according to this, that the Torah is not just telling us about the historical origins of our first redeemer, rather it also informing and instructing us what it takes to nurture the likes of people like Moshe and Aharon. Moshe and Aharon did not just appear on the scene and become who they became, it was also through the merit and upbringing of their courageous parents.
Although not the topic of this discussion, it is interesting to note that a simple reading of the text seems to imply that after the attempt to rally Bnei Yisrael behind Moshe in demanding freedom, which fails, Hashem “turns” to plan B which is to go directly to Par’oh to assure their freedom. In fact Bnei Yisrael seem to become a very passive participant in the whole process until they are finally “sent out” by Par’oh.
See Sforno Shemot 6; 14 as to why Levi merited this.
See Malbim Shemot ibid.
See Kli Yakar, Ohr Hachayim, Meshech Chochmah, Ha’amekDavar – Shmot ibid. See too, Derash Moshe (Rav Moshe Feinstein, Ztz”l) Shemot 6; 20.
Rashi Shmot ibid.
For more information on how to utilize Likutei Sichot to learn Rashi, feel free to e-mail me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shmot1;15-17 and Rashi there.
See Ramban Shemot 6;23.
We have not answered apparently the question as to why this becomes important to point out at this stage of the narrative. A careful reading of the verses will help us realize that at this stage, it was precisely those qualities of Yocheved and Amram that Moshe and Aharon had to muster in order to proceed on their mission, See footnote 3, a discussion for another time.