A Match Made in Egypt

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG

While this week’s ParshahVa’eira — is primarily about the first seven of the Ten Plagues, and the beginning the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery, there is a short, somewhat non-sequitur, interlude, in which the Torah discusses several important marriages. Let’s discuss two of them.

Moses’ Parents

The tale of Moses’ conception is presented fairly enigmatically in last week’s Parshah: “A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son, and [when] she saw him that he was good, she hid him for three months.”[1] Torah tells us nothing of the identity of either the Levite man or the Levite daughter whose marriage produced Moses.

In this week’s Parshah, however, the Torah clearly states: “Amram took Yocheved, his aunt, as his wife, and she bore him Aaron and Moses.”[2]

Ergo, Amram was the “man of the house Levi,” and Yocheved was the “daughter of Levi” referenced earlier.

Since Amram is described as a “man of the house” whereas Yocheved is described a “daughter,” we can conclude Yocheved was Levi’s actual daughter, whereas Amram was only a descendant of Levi; or, as the text points out, Levi’s grandson — the son of Levi’s son, Kehot.

Hence, Yocheved was Amram’s paternal aunt — a relationship that was not prohibited under the Noahide laws in effect at that time. It may not have been prohibited, but it does seem fairly unusual, and it raises the question of the nature of the marriage pool.

After all, of all of the seventy members of Jacob’s family that originally descended to Egypt (apart from his wives and sons’ wives), included a total of three girls: Dinah, Jacob’s daughter; Serach, Jacob’s granddaughter; and Yocheved, Jacob’s youngest granddaughter.[3]  So in terms of female cousins available for marriage, Jacob’s grandsons didn’t have many options.

Was there an explosion in the female population after the family arrived in Egypt? That seems unlikely, given that the ratio of women to men in Jacob’s pre-Egypt family was about one female for every 22 males. Did Jacob’s grandsons take Egyptian wives?  That also seems unlikely, as this would have integrated the family into Egyptian society in a manner which would preclude the discrimination and slavery that followed. Did their wives emigrate from elsewhere?

The answer is not clear, but what is clear is that, as one of only two pre-Egypt granddaughters, Yocheved must have been an extraordinary catch; and to have been caught — not by a cousin, but — by her brother’s son, is very interesting. Years later, her son Moses would deliver G-d’s commandment, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is the close relative of your father”[4] — but at this point, it was a relationship that was still permitted.

Aaron’s Wife

“Aaron took to himself for a wife, Elisheva, the daughter of Amminadav, the sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.[5]

Why was it necessary to identify Elisheva’s brother? We know who Amminadav is, and by identifying her father, we now know precisely which Elisheva Aaron married. So why mention that she was also Nachshon’s sister?

Both the Midrash and the Talmud explain that: “From here we learn that one who contemplates taking a wife should first investigate her brothers.”[6] Thus, it was only after Aaron evaluated Nachshon that he took Nachshon’s sister to be his wife.

This is an interesting one, and clearly does not appear to be a universal rule. For one thing, many many marriages have taken place thus far in the Torah, yet this is the first time the brother-sister dynamic has been mentioned. Further, one has to wonder whether, if Isaac had investigated Rebecca’s brother (Laban), he would have gone through with the match.

And why would the character of a brother have any bearing on the character of his sister?

The Talmud explains that it is not about the sister’s own character, per se. Rather, the effect will be seen in the children. There is some genetic symbiosis that results from children born of the same womb. Because such a substantial portion of a child’s makeup comes from the mother, that symbiosis can manifest in that child. Thus, one will often see a strong resemblance between a child and his/her mother’s brother(s). I have examined my own children and personally found this to be true. My children don’t seem to have any of my siblings in them, but my wife’s brothers are well-represented.

Was Esau the manifestation of Rebecca’s symbiosis with her brother Laban? On it’s face, that seems too glib an explanation: did they have anything in common other than their biblical wickedness? On the other hand, is there is significance in the fact that Laban pursued Jacob and then turned back just in time for Jacob to turn around and find Esau pursuing him — particularly according to the Midrash that the dual crisis was coordinated by Laban? Who knows? Jacob beguiled Esau out of his birthright, and later obtained the blessings intended for Esau through deceit. Laban was an accomplished liar and cheater. Were Jacob’s deceptions a manifestation of Laban’s symbiosis with Rebecca? Who knows?

Clearly, however, when Aaron was courting Elisheva, he investigated her brother Nachshon: the same Nachshon who, when the Israelites were later blocked by the Red Sea, marched right on in up until his nostrils trusting in G-d’s salvation; the same Nachshon who was later appointed the prince of the tribe of Judah.

Did it work? Were there any similarities between Nachshon and any of Aaron’s four sons, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Itamar, that reflected the symbiosis between Nachshon and Elisheva?

As to that, further research is required. 🙂

Shabbat Shalom!

[1] Exodus, 2:1-2.

[2] Exodus, 6:20

[3] See Genesis, 46-8-27.

[4] Leviticus, 18:12.

[5] Exodus, 6:23.

[6] Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra, 110a; Shemot Rabbah, 7:5.