Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Great Expectations

In Exodus on January 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

Sometimes I wonder
if I’m not right for the job.
I talk too slowly.

There are younger ones
Stronger ones, with their straight backs
And their empty mouths.

Maybe I’m too old
or I feel great fear, but I’m
the best of my kind.

Parsha Waera

English: Moses and Aaron Speak to the People, ...

Moses and Aaron Speak to the People, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: the sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel…And the sons of Simeon…And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations…

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. And the sons of Izhar: Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel: Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Sithri. And Aaron took him Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nahshon, to wife; and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And the sons of Korah: Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the families of the Korahites. And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites according to their families. 

These are that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said: ‘Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts.’ These are they that spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are that Moses and Aaron.

Exodus 6.14-27

Why now?  Why does the text interrupt the narrative with an account of Moses’ and Aaron’s lineage?  What purpose does it serve?  Is it necessary to establish their families at this time?  Why not earlier or later?

Interestingly, the text starts with Reuben, first-born of Israel.  Wasn’t Reuben stripped of this status by Israel in Genesis?  Some commentators say Reuben is mentioned first for the integrity of the chronicle.  Others say its an expression of love and forgiveness made by God through the text.

What does Reuben have to do with Moses?  Or Simeon, for that matter?  Levi is Moses’ ancestor.  Shouldn’t the text start with Levi?

Looking back at Genesis, we read Simeon and Levi are brethren; weapons of violence their kinship…for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed oxen (Genesis 49.5-6).  There may be a clue here to why Simeon and Levi were lumped together.  You might ask isn’t Reuben their brethren too?  But the intent of the verse is to emphasize the brothers’ similarity, so the Living Torah rendering, Simeon and Levi are a pair, gives a better sense of the meaning of the phrase.  It also gives a better sense of their father’s groaning “oy vey.”  How would you feel if they were your kids?

So what about Reuben?  His blessing reads Unstable as water, have not thou the excellency; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it–he went up to my couch (ibid 49.4).  Remember:  Reuben slept with Bilhah, his step-mother, in Genesis (35.22).

The trend thats forming is these people were troublemakers.  Or, perhaps they were made trouble.  One lacks sense, the others are psychopathic.  What about the others?

Korah, Moses’ cousin, starts a rebellion against Moses in the Book of Numbers, chapter 16.  Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, were killed in Leviticus by fire from before the LORD (10.2).  The prohibition introduced immediately after the incident leads many to believe the pair were drunks.  Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.  (Leviticus 10.9)

We also see some famous names here.  Eleazar and Phinehas, Aaron son and grandson, who would become High Priests in turn after their father.  Judah is represented too, by Elisheba, Nahshon’s sister and daughter of Amminadab.  Of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab (Numbers 1.7).

Such a motley crew this is!  What does it all mean?  Why are Aaron and Moses included in this bunch?  Why say these are that Aaron and Moses…these are they…these are that Moses and Aaron.  Why remind us that the text means this Moses and Aaron?  Why wouldn’t the text mean this Moses and Aaron?  What does this teach?

Two men, descended from morons and murderers, sons of a man who married his aunt, parents of drunks and malcontents, rose to rescue their people from injustice and slavery.

Great Expectations.

Good Shabbos.

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  1. […] given God’s position on other gods, capital-G or small-g. What’s going on here?  See Great Expectations for Moses’ human […]

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