Va’era

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM -

“Am­ram took Jochebed, his aunt, as his wife, and she bore for him, Aaron and Moses”

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Ex­o­dus 6:20

odato” means “his aunt” — per­haps “his cousin,” as some trans­la­tions say. But there is some­thing more curious here: where is Miriam, the elder sib­ling of Aaron and Moses? This verse is part of a sec­tion giv­ing the ge­nealo­gies of the Levit­i­cal fam­i­lies. The only women men­tioned are those who were wives, and who, like Jochebed, bore sons. Miriam nei­ther mar­ried nor had any chil­dren.

Miriam is in­cluded in the ge­neal­ogy given in I Chron­i­cles (5:29). But de­spite be­ing the eldest, she is men­tioned last: “the chil­dren of Am­ram, Aaron, Moses and Miriam”.

Else­where, Micah puts Moses first: “Moses, Aaron and Miriam” (6:4) — again Miriam is last. As Num­bers 12 makes clear, Moses was set apart from his sib­lings by his ex­cep­tional re­la­tion­ship with God. Mean­while, Aaron’s place as the first of the priestly line es­tab­lished his pri­macy over Miriam, who fea­tures in just 25 verses in the whole of the To­rah.

But Miriam was a prophet in her own right. In parashat Be­shal­lach, read in two weeks’ time, we learn that, af­ter pass­ing through the Sea of Reeds, “Miriam, the prophet­ess ( han’viah), the sis­ter of Aaron, took a tim­brel in her hand…” (15: 20).

The sages taught that Moses is not men­tioned here be­cause he was not born at the time of Miriam’s prophecy. And what did Miriam proph­esy? The Ge­mara has Miriam say­ing, “My mother will bear a son, who will be the saviour of Is­rael” (So­tah 12b-13a), and the sages in­ter­preted Miriam’s role in the story of Moses’s birth, re­lated in last week’s parashah, She­mot, in the light of her prophecy.

There, the fo­cus is on Moses; the To­rah re­lates that af­ter “his mother” and “his sis­ter” (who are not men­tioned by name) placed him in the bas­ket in the river, “his sis­ter sta­tioned her­self far off to see what would be done to him” (Ex­o­dus 2:4). Ac­cord­ing to the sages, Miriam is keen to know what will be the out­come of her prophecy (Midrash Rab­bah 1: 22) — and, in­deed, her prophecy was ful­filled.

RABBI EL­IZ­A­BETH TIK­VAH SARAH

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