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Parshah Halacha – Parshat Shemot 

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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.

In the Torah portion of Shemot we read about the birth of our teacher Moshe, as the verse says,[1] “A man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son. When she saw that he was good, she hid him for three months.” The name of this man was Amram and the name of his wife, the daughter of Levi, was Yocheved, as recorded in next week’s Torah portion,[2] “Amram took Yocheved, his aunt, as his wife, and she bore him Aaron and Moshe…”

Why No Names Given?

The commentaries discuss why the names of Moshe’s parents are only given in next week’s Torah portion and not here. Here are some of their explanations:

·        Order of the Story

The Ramban says that the Torah does not want to interrupt the narrative of the exile of the Jewish people with the details of Moshe’s lineage. Rather, it inserts that between the story of the exile and that of the plagues which mark the beginning of the redemption.

·        Of Human Origin

The Pardes Yosef says that the Torah wants to emphasize the human origin of Moshe so that it not be said (as certain other religions say about their leaders) that Moshe had some sort of Divine origin.[3]

·        A Private Matter

According to our sages,[4] Amram had divorced Yocheved so that they not give birth to babies who would be killed by the Egyptians. (This is at the time of the decree that all male babies be thrown into the Nile river. See Exodus 1:22) At the urging of their daughter Miriam, they decided to get remarried. The Zohar explains[5] that when Amram and Yocheved got remarried, they did so in a private and subdued manner so that the Egyptians not realize they had remarried and try to kill their newborn babies.

·        A Divine Hand

Another interpretation of the Zohar[6] says that the names of Amram and Yocheved are not mentioned as their union was not through a choice of their own. Rather it was G-d who orchestrated their matrimony in order to ensure the birth of our future savior.

·        Anyone’s Child

Some say[7] that the Torah does not (immediately) publicize the names of Moshe’s parents as it wishes to teach all parents the lesson that their child could be the savior of the Jewish people.

About Amram, Son of Kehat

While we do not know that much about Amram, the father of Moshe, here is some information we have about him, gleaned from various sources:

His Father Kehat

According to the Zohar,[8] Kehat, the son of Levi and the father of Amram, was a Tzadik (righteous man). The Midrash says[9] that he brought the Shechina (Divine Presence) down one level closer to the earth.

Meaning of the Name – a Great Nation

The Zohar says[10] that the name Amram was appropriate for him as it means “an exalted nation,” referring to Amram’s son Moshe who was equal in importance to all of the Jewish people.

Free of Sin

According to the Talmud,[11] Amram was one of four people who did not die due to any sin they had committed. Rather, they died as a result of the sin of Adam and the snake at which time it was decreed that all human beings must die. The other three people who did not die due to any sin were Binyamin, Yishai (King David’s father) and Kilav (King David’s son[12]).

No One Is Perfect

The commentaries question the above teaching based on the verse that says, “There is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin.”[13] They offer the following explanations:[14]

·        Tosfot says[15] that the verse is referring to most people, but there are exceptions to the rule.

·        The Me’iri[16] explains that these tzaddikim did commit small, inadvertent sins, but those sins were so minor they could not account for their deaths. Rather, they died as a result of Adam’s sin.

·        These righteous men did sin inadvertently in small ways, but through their suffering, these sins were completely forgiven. As such, they died only as a result of the sin of Adam and the snake.[17]

·        The verse says that “There is no tzadik righteous man – who… does not sin.” This refers to people who attempt to observe every single law to the letter. There is a higher level, which is that of a chassid, a pious man, who strives to go beyond the letter of the law and makes safeguards to protect himself from sinning. So, whereas there is no tzadik who does not commit any sins, there may be a chassid who is sin-free. The four mentioned in the Talmud were in the latter group.[18]

·        The verse says, “There is no righteous man on earth who does good and does not sin.” This means that no one is perfect in both the performance of good and refraining from sin. So, whereas the four tzadikim mentioned in the Talmud never sinned, neither did they perform as much goodness as they could have. Thus, these men, despite their righteousness, were not considered as great as Moshe and Aharon who accomplished more in terms of their positive deeds.[19]

Why Amram?

The Maharal explains[20] that Amram could not have fathered Moshe, who was considered equal to all of the Jewish people, had he not been a perfect tzaddik. Although Moshe himself sinned, this is because he was on such an exalted level that he was judged very rigorously. The fact that Moshe’s children were not perfect is also understandable since Moshe was on such a lofty level he was not able to relate (completely) to his children. His father, however, had to have been perfect to merit such a child.

Leader of the Generation

The Talmud[21] says that Amram was the Gadol HaDor, the leader of his generation. This is based on the Torah calling him an “Ish (man)”[22] which connotes an important person.[23]

Extra Mitzvot

The Rambam writes[24] that in Egypt, Amram was commanded regarding other mitzvot in addition to the seven Noahide laws. It is not clear to which mitzvot the Rambam is referring.[25] Some say it was the mitzvah of procreation.[26] Some say it was the mitzvah of marriage.[27]

Married his Aunt

The Torah tells us (as quoted above) that Amram married his aunt, the daughter of Levi. (Amram’s father, as mentioned, was Kehat, the son of Levi.) This is unusual since such a relationship is forbidden by Torah law,[28] especially since Amram is described as being a perfect tzaddik.

The commentaries explain that while, by Torah law, this relationship was forbidden, it was not forbidden by Noahide law as a Noahide may marry his aunt.[29] Even according to the opinion that a Noahide may not marry an aunt, this is only true if they are related maternally but not if they are related paternally. So, while Yocheved and Kehat were both children of Levi, they did not share the same mother. As such, by Noahide law, they were not considered related.[30]  

In addition, the following explanations have been offered:

·        By Divine Command

The Abarbanel points out[31] that the prohibition against marrying an aunt is a logical one. As the relationship of a husband towards a wife should be one in which the husband commands the respect of his wife. Whereas if his wife is his aunt, then she should be commanding his respect. This could be cause for a problematic relationship. As such, Amram would not have married Yocheved were it not for a Divine decree, since G-d knew that this union specifically would result in the birth of Moshe. This is alluded to in the verse that says “And a man from the house of Levi went –וילך.  The expression of וילך – went – indicates that he embarked on something out of the ordinary. He would not have done so had he not been instructed by G-d Himself.

·        A Skeleton in the Closet

The Chizkuni[32] points to the teaching in the Talmud[33] that no leader should be appointed in charge of the community unless he has a skeleton in his closet. (The actual words of the Talmud are “unless a box of vermin is hanging behind him.”) This ensures that the leader will remain humble. This was fulfilled by the appointment of King David whose great-grandmother was Ruth, a righteous convert from Moab. G-d chose Moshe, whose parents’ relationship would later become forbidden in order to ensure Moshe’s lifelong humility.

·        A Lesson in Torah Study

The Ma’or VaShemesh[34] explains that although usually in relationships where one party “receives” from the other (e.g., a wife from her husband), the giver should be on a higher level than the recipient, this is not necessarily the case regarding Torah study. Rather, it is possible the student can be on a higher level than his teacher (in some aspect). This is why one should be willing to learn something from every person.[35] This is also why a teacher should treasure his students as they can impart knowledge to him as well.[36] Since the union of Amram and Yocheved resulted in the birth of Moshe, the one who received the Torah, they were teaching us an important lesson about Torah study. Because in this case the recipient (Yocheved) was in some respects on a higher level than the giver (Amram), they were demonstrating that one must always be willing to learn (receive) even from one who is on a lower level than oneself.

May we merit to take these important lessons to heart!

[1] Exodus 1:2

[2] Ibid 6:20

[3] But see the Zohar vol.2 pg. 19a that, according to Rabbi Abahu, “ish – man” is referring to the angel Gavriel who is sometimes called an “ish”(see Daniel 9:21). This means that the angel assisted and ensured that their union would result in the birth of this important child.

[4] Sotah 12a

[5] Zohar ibid, citing Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Abahu

[6] Ibid

[7] Sefer Yuchsin, quoted in Iturei Torah. (I’m not sure which Sefer Yuchsin this is. I could not find it in the Sefer HaYuchsin by Rabbi Avraham Zacuto. A.C.)

[8] Ibid as explained by the Matok Midvash

[9] Pesikta DeRav Kahana 1:22, cited in Ishei HaTanach (Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities) by Yishai Chasidah, entry “Kehat.”

[10] Ibid

[11] Shabbat 55b

[12] See Shmuel II 3:3. His mother was the righteous Avigayil.

[13] Kohelet 7:20

[14] Collected in the Yalkut Biurim of the Metivta Shas

[15] D.H. Arba’ah on Shabbat ibid

[16] 55a D.H Me’ikrei. See also Rosh Yosef

[17] Penei Yehoshua on Shabbat ibid

[18] Chida in Petach Einayim on Shabbat ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] In Chidushei Agadot on Shabbat ibid

[21] Sotah 12a

[22] Exodus 2:1

[23] Iyun Yaakov on the Ein Yaakov on Sotah ibid

[24] Hilchot Melachim 9:1

[25] See Kessef Mishnah

[26] See Pardes Yosef on Exodus 6:20 based on the Responsa of Mekom Shmuel (23).

[27] Torat Menachem 5745 vol. 2 pg. 1290 based on Exodus 2:1

[28] See Levit. 18:12

[29] See Rambam Hilchot Melachim 9:5

[30] See Sanhedrin 58a and b

[31] On Exodus 2:1

[32] On ibid 6:20

[33] Yoma 22b

[34] On Exodus 6:20. The Ma’or VaShemesh was written by Rabbi Klonymus Kalman Epstein (1753 – 1823) one of the main disicples of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk.)

[35] See Pirkei Avot 4:1

[36] See Makot 10a

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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