Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and commanded them regarding the Bnei
Yisrael…These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Ruvein…
Talk about ruining a mood.
In the space of one verse, the Torah ratchets up the action several levels
from the matter-of-fact dialogue between Hashem and Moshe that took place
before. Through Parshas Shemos, the verb of choice in their conversations
was ויאמר, which is far more gentle than the harsher וידבר that is
inaugurated with Parshas Va’era.
But now, the stakes change abruptly. Hashem drops the negotiations of last
week’s parshah, and even moves away from the “I really want you to do this”
implied by וידבר. Now it becomes ויצום - He commands, orders Moshe and
Aharon. The time for debate has expired. The time of redemption has arrived.
No demurrals accepted. Moshe and Aharon are instructed to start the
countdown to the final run-up preceding the geulah.
Something big ought to happen next.
It doesn’t. Rather than continue with some development, the Torah seems to
walk away from the rising expectation, and interjects a Jewish family tree –
although only half-heartedly. When it finishes, it repeats the two verses
that precede this one, as if returning us to where we were before the
It is a strangely truncated tree. It seems intent on telling us who Moshe
and Aharon are, rather than list all the families of Klal Yisrael. Yet it
tells us much more than their lineage. It provides a brief outline of the
two tribes that come before Levi, as well as the side branches within Levi
that were not responsible for the birth of Moshe and Aharon.
What emerges is not the usual story of who begot whom, but the fuller
context of their upbringing. We learn about the place of their shevet
relative to the ones that came before. We find out about Moshe and Aharaon’s
uncles and cousins, and calculate that their father and grandfather – both
blessed with longevity – must have still been available to guide and
influence them in the years just prior to their assuming the mantle of
leadership. Only when we have fully absorbed their familial background does
the Torah point to them and stress, “These are the Aharon and Moshe to whom
Hashem said, ‘Take out the Bnei Yisrael from the land of Egypt,’…these are
those Moshe and Aharon.”
Had Moshe’s mission continued to meet with the failure of his first
encounter with Paroh, none of this information would have been necessary.
Precisely because the Torah places us on the threshold of his breathtaking
success, it insists on spelling out for us that he was a mortal human being,
whose origins were well know to all.
From early times, men who performed astounding feats were turned after their
deaths into gods. In later times, a Jew whose genealogy was not well
established, and who brought a bit of light to the world (borrowed from
Moshe!), was turned by millions into a divine being, fathered by G-d. His
divinity became a cornerstone of a major faith.
Poised to begin a remarkable career unmatched by anyone, our Moshe is
introduced to us as a human. Even after he ascends Har Sinai and brings back
the Word of Hashem, even after the after-glow of that encounter steadily
radiates from his face, Moshe remains human. When he dies, his burial place
is hidden from us so that no one will attempt to deify him posthumously. He
begins his meteoric rise to fame as a human, remains human, and will always
A human being can ascend to greatness and still remain human. Humans
sometimes are privileged to speak to G-d, and to speak in His Name as
genuine prophets. This finding, however, can lead to an erroneous conclusion
in the opposite direction. Some religions preach that not only does one not
need to be godly to speak to G-d, but that anyone and everyone can. The
person shouting from the soap box on the corner might by G-d’s prophet. So
might be the village idiot. One religion takes pride in the illiteracy of
its prophet; the transformation of this person into the transmitter of a
work of elegant expression is claimed to be the greatest of all miracles.
The Torah here dismisses this possibility as well. Moshe and Aharon may have
been fully human, but they were carefully and deliberately chosen. Had fools
and simpletons sufficed, plenty were available. Had candidates of ordinary
greatness sufficed, G-d could have found many among the tribes of Ruvain and
Shimon, or among the other families of Levi.
One of the messages of this limited genealogy is that Hashem picks His
spokespeople exceedingly well. Even within the stellar accomplishments of
the Avos, only Yaakov was chosen to be the real father of the House of
Israel. Aharon and Miriam were extraordinarily great – but they were passed
over in favor of Moshe.
Bearing the Word of G-d is not for demi-gods, but it is not for just anyone.
Chazal tell us that a prophet must be strong, wise, and well-off. If
prophecy were to become the province of the weak and afflicted, the
delusional musings of the ill would be confused with Divine messages. The
prophet must be wise, because it takes deep understanding to grasp the
meaning of His Word, so as to be able to communicate it to others. The
prophet must be financially independent, so that no interpersonal dependence
or subconscious need will taint his ability to objectively discern the truth.
Our pesukim here add to the list of credentials for this particular mission.
We cannot immediately discern just what Moshe gained from all the resources
available to him within his family and outside of it. We might gain some
insight by summoning up some imagery from the early history of this family.
There is a pattern in the names of that Leah assigned to her sons. Her
firstborn’s name echoes the dejection she felt prior to his birth, and her
gratitude to Hashem for responding to her pain. With each successive son,
she becomes less downtrodden and more optimistic. With Levi’s birth, she
feels that she has finally been part on an equal footing with her husband.
We can surmise that Leah’s change in attitude subtly affected the
development of her children, as her feelings spilled over to the children
she bore. It took much courage and devotion to duty for Amram to return to
the Yocheved he had earlier divorced when bearing children had become
painful and futile because of Paroh’s edict to kill the male babies. It took
complete submission to the Will of Hashem for Yocheved to return, and agree
to attempt motherhood under the circumstances. It is no coincidence that the
two were described not by name, but simply as a “man from the house of Levi”
and a “daughter of Levi.”
It was the Levi in them both – not the Ruvein or Shimon – that allowed the
union. It was precisely this diminution of self that they shared that they
in turn passed on to their son, Moshe. In him, it would take the form of the
most important requirement for the greatest of all prophets – the gift of
The one who spoke most perfectly in the Name of G-d was neither Divine nor
ordinary. In the end, we learn why the genealogy that began with Ruvain ends
where it does – at a point that was not arrived at randomly, but precisely
 Based on Hirsch Chumash, Shemos 6:13-14
 Shemos 6:26-27
 Shemos 2:1