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Judaism: Divrei Azriel: Not Deities, But Men

This week's dvar Torah is by Moshe Schwartz.
Published: Friday, December 20, 2013 3:33 PM


There is a sizable difference between Parshas (Torah reading) Shemos and Parshas Vaera in the telling and retelling of Moses' birth. In Shemos 2:1-2, the pesukim say:

 א( וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי

ב( וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי-טוֹב הוּא, וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים

1) And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.

2) And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

 On the other hand, in Parshas Vaera, Shemos 6:20, the pasuk says:

 כ( וַיִּקַּח עַמְרָם אֶת-יוֹכֶבֶד דֹּדָתוֹ, לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ, אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-מֹשֶׁה; וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי עַמְרָם, שֶׁבַע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה

20) And Amram took him Jochebed his father's sister to wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were a hundred and thirty and seven years.

Anonymity in Parshas Shemos versus a detailed genealogy chart in Parshas Vaera – what is the significance of this difference? The Kehillas Yitzchak writes that in Parshas Shemos, at the very beginnings of the Exodus, Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Torah is extremely careful to demonstrate that the savior who will bring about the salvation is born of man. It is not important who this man was, but it is important that he was born of man.

Even if this man grows to such great heights as Moses, he is a man. The Kehillas Yitzchak stresses Moses' "manhood." He also draws a stark contrast between the start of the Jews' salvation and the beginnings of other religions, like Christianity, which deify their savior.

Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch learns this same idea from Moses's detailed lineage listed in Parshas Vaera. In his commentary there, noting the timing of the pasuk just before Yetzias Mitzrayim is set in motion, Rav Hirsch writes, "Until now, the efforts of Moses and Aharon have been completely frustrated. Were it not for later events, there would be no need for such an exact list of their lineage and family relations.

"Now, however, begins their triumphal mission, the likes of which no mortal had ever accomplished before them or will ever accomplish after them. Now it is of critical importance to present an exact list of their lineage and relations, so as to attest thereby for all time to come that their origin was ordinary and human, and that the nature of their being was ordinary and human.... Our Moses was human, remained human, and will never be anything but human....

"God here commanded him to present his genealogical record and thereby affirm the fact that 'on the day that God first spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt' , everyone knew his parents and grandparents, his uncles and aunts, and all his cousins. They knew his whole lineage and all his relatives. For eighty years they had known him as a man of flesh and blood, subject to all the failings and weaknesses, worries and needs, of human nature, a man like all the other men among whom he had been born and raised. They were flesh and blood like all other men, and God chose them to be His instruments in the performance of His great work."

Like the Kehillas Yitzchak, Rav Hirsch is quick to emphasize that Moses was a man. Perhaps Rav Hirsch is alluding to the fact that Pharaoh claimed he was the human manifestation of the Egyptian god Osiris, who was thought to be the king of the gods. The Rambam says that Moses had a din melech, king's status, in the desert. Just as Moses was about to wage war with Egypt, the Torah made it clear that the miracles that were about to happen through him are not his – they are God's.

This juxtaposes Moses, the human king, with Pharaoh, the god-king. At a time in history when heroes, saviors and leaders were routinely deified, we constantly reminded ourselves that our leader and savior was a man with failings just like you and me.

How is it possible that such similar ideas can be learned from two very different sets of verses, pesukim

To tie these two related ideas together, that of the Kehillas Yitzchak and that of Rav Hirsch, we can highlight that, at the beginning of the story, Moses was just a child with potential. The person to take us out of Egypt could have been any child from any tribe. In fact, any of the twelve heads of the tribes, Joshua, Miriam's son Hur, or Caleb could have led the Exodus.

This is the meaning of "vayelech ish mi'beis levi, (a Levite)" It is only later  once he reached his potential, that he deserved to be identified with his prestigious heritage, "vayikach Amram es Yocheved. (Amram and Jocheved's son)."

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that only after it was apparent that he was going to return to Egypt and lead the people – only after this nameless child had become who he became and had used his great potential, going through all his trials and tribulations and speaking to Hashem at the bush – does he deserve these versesdescribing his lineage, once he had come to do the job that his potential demanded of him.