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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dvar Torah, Parshat Shavua Shmot: Could Moshe's Father Have Had More Than One Wife

Those who know me may know that I prefer learning my Bible, Chumash, Tanach from the text, not the drash, midrash.  Here and there I may find it interesting, but on the whole I find midrashim contradictory and then confusing.  If one is right, then the other is wrong, so they haven't helped explain the more difficult passage.

There's a midrash about a very famous line in this week's Torah Portion, Shmot, that is so blithely quoted, I was sure it must be written someplace in the the Bible.  It's the story that has Miriam chastising her parents for divorcing, because that means they are killing both male and female babies which was worse than Pharaoh's decree to kill the males.  They listen to her and marry again.

I think it was a year ago that I got frustrated and aggravated at a class listening to it and asked where it's written in the text.  I was told that it was to explain a very complicated passage.  This is the passage:
Exodus Chapter 2 שְׁמוֹת
א  וַיֵּלֶךְ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית לֵוִי; וַיִּקַּח, אֶת-בַּת-לֵוִי.1 And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi.
ב  וַתַּהַר הָאִשָּׁה, וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן; וַתֵּרֶא אֹתוֹ כִּי-טוֹב הוּא, וַתִּצְפְּנֵהוּ שְׁלֹשָׁה יְרָחִים.2 And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.
ג  וְלֹא-יָכְלָה עוֹד, הַצְּפִינוֹ, וַתִּקַּח-לוֹ תֵּבַת גֹּמֶא, וַתַּחְמְרָה בַחֵמָר וּבַזָּפֶת; וַתָּשֶׂם בָּהּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וַתָּשֶׂם בַּסּוּף עַל-שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר.3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
ד  וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ, מֵרָחֹק, לְדֵעָה, מַה-יֵּעָשֶׂה לוֹ.4 And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.

Honestly, I don't find anything peculiar or difficult about this narrative.  So, I was answered:
"There was an older sister, Miriam and later we learn of an older brother, Aharon.  That's a peculiar situation. The midrash helps us understand how that could be."
I don't see that as an incomprehensible situation.  It's normal to me.  There are two very simple reasons for such a scenario.
  • One, the personal is that my mother was from a "his, hers and theirs" family.  When her parents, a widow and a widower got married they already had children from their dead spouses.  Their children had five older brothers and sisters.  I have no doubt that widows and widowers, especially considering medical care at the time, married in Biblical days. 
  • Two, during those times it was completely permitted for a man to marry a number of wives simultaneously.  Miriam and Aharon could have very well been from one, or even two, of that Levi's other wives.
This is just my opinion.  When I state it, none of the Biblical experts I know can say that I'm wrong.  Everything I've just written is consistent with the text and Jewish society of that time.

And after following the instructions in a comment by  yaak, there's another simple explanation.  In Tanach there's no "early/later." That sentence announcing the marriage just skips the births of Aaron and Miriam, because there was nothing special to write about.

And what do you think?


Anonymous said...

Don't understand. What is the problem. I learned in Yeshivah that Yocheved was married to Amram and had two children - first, Miriam and then Aharon, but when the decrees came out to kill the newborn boys; Amram didn't want to take any chances and divorced his wife. That's where Miriam comes and sort of admonishes her father by telling him that Pharoah wants to kill the boys, but you and having the influence on the other men of Israel will be liable for killing the future generations by divorcing your wives. He realized she was right, kissed her on the forehead and remarried Yocheved, and thus, Moshe was born. End of story.

yaak said...

See Shemot 6:20 and Bemidbar 26:59 to see why this doesn't work.

However, there are Midrashim and Targumim re: half-brothers of Moshe and Aharon who are known as Eldad and Meidad. Some say that they are half-brothers via the father and some via the mother.

Batya said...

a, that's the midrash
Yaak, thanks, as I was falling asleep I was wondering if there were pasookim like those. But it's always said in Tanach that early and later are all mixed up. So here in one sentence there's no mention of the birth of the older children, since they were unusual. Words aren't wasted.

Anonymous said...

batya. i too have studied as Anon wrote, that the first two were born before the decree. i asked one of my rabbis and he replied thus.

You are correct, Miriam and Aharon were born before the Egyptian plot was hatched; Moshe was born afterward.Our major source for Jewish history, the Seder Olam composed by the Tanna Rabbi Yossi bar Chalafta, tells us that Miriam was born in the year 2361; Aharon was born in 2365;and Moshe was born in 2368; all three died in the same year, 2488, which was the year in which Yehoshua bin Nun crossed the Jordan and invaded the Holy Land.

Obviously, the Pharaonic decree fell within those three intervening years between Aharon's birth and Moshe's.

You've been reading my pieces now long enough that you should have an appreciation that when differing opinions are recorded in Oral Torah sources, it is because there is some validity to each of them, and they have to be learnt in terms of their internal consistency. Particularly in the midrash, it is often the case that they were intended by the tanna or amora who uttered them to be understood allegorically or homiletically.

Batya said...

My opinions, rainbow, are frequently very minority ones.

Perry Zamek said...

Hi Batya,
You write: "on the whole I find midrashim contradictory and then confusing. If one is right, then the other is wrong,"
I think the problem lies in the attempt to accept all midrashim as being "correct" or "right". You need to see midrash, not as a consistent whole, but as a collection that almost certainly contains internal contradictions. An individual midrash will be internally consistent, but there is no need for consistency across the whole of midrash.

Batya said...

Perry, I'm a CPA's daughter. That may not work well with my sort of mind.