by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And a man from the house of Levi went out, and took for his wife a
daughter of Levi." [Shemos 2:1]
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) explains the extra word "vayelech [went
out]" in this verse, which refers to Amram and Yocheved. Amram had
previously married Yocheved, he explains, but separated from her in
response to Pharoah's decree that all Jewish boys be killed. Amram "went
out" in the path of his daughter's advice.
According to our Sages, his daughter Miriam told him, "Your decree is
still worse than Pharoah's! Pharoah decreed only against Jewish boys, but
yours is against girls as well!" Because of Miriam's counsel, Amram
remarried Yocheved, and Our Rabbi Moshe was born.
We should wonder, though, when Miriam made her argument, and when it was
accepted. Obviously the separation went on for some time, especially
because Pharoah made two decrees. The first decree was that the midwives
should kill any male Jewish child [1:16]. After that failed, Pharoah then
told his entire nation to throw any Jewish boy into the Nile river [1:22].
Amram, apparently, remarried only after the second decree, which ordered
all Egyptians to take part! Does this make sense?
In order to answer this, let us look first at another puzzling story. In
Parshas Vayeshev, which we read several weeks ago, Yosef's brothers decide
to kill him. But "Reuven heard, and he saved him from their hands..." [Br.
37:21]. What did they do instead? They threw him in a pit, "and the pit
was empty, it had no water" [37:24]. Our Sages asked, "if it says the pit
is empty, don't I know that it has no water? Rather, it had no water, but
it did have snakes and scorpions" [Talmud Shabbos 22a]. So what kind of
"rescue" did Reuven carry out? How can the Torah credit Reuven with
"saving" Yosef, when he dumped Yosef into a pit filled with snakes and
The answer goes to the very nature of a human being. A human being has one
trait which, above all others, distinguishes us from animals: the trait of
free will, of choice. Humans can choose to kill or not to kill; for
animals, the decision is made by a host of external factors - animals
don't go on a rampage because they "feel like doing it," nor are they
generous by choice. Only we humans have the ability to make our own
Because the natural order of things is for humans to have free will, it
would have been miraculous beyond nature for Divine Intervention to save
Yosef from his stronger brothers who had surrounded him. Because
scorpions, on the other hand, do not have free choice, it is not entirely
unnatural (though certainly unusual) for them to fail to sting and kill
someone who lands in their pit. Therefore Reuven did indeed save Yosef. He
saved Yosef from his brothers, given that Divine Intervention could then
save him from the snakes and scorpions in the pit - a miracle, but not
We can then understand why Amram might more willingly remarry Yocheved
after the second decree. Under the first, the midwives were commanded to
kill the boys, and had they not displayed amazing self-sacrifice, an open
miracle would have been needed to save each child. The second decree,
however, put death in the hands of the river - and thus only a "natural"
miracle would be needed to save them.
[From Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Hertzberg zt"l, Rabbi in Baltimore for 42
years, and my wife's grandfather. The original text is in the posthumous
collection of his Divrei Torah, Tzaddik B'Emunaso.]
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
This week's class is dedicated to the speedy healing of
Azriel Yitzchak ben Chaya Gitel.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Torah.org.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis - Torah.org.