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