Friday, December 28, 2007

Shmot: And A Man Went

Every word of Torah is an available jewel. Let's look at one pasuk. Please think about this sentence: "Vayelech Ish MiBeit Levi Vayikach Et Bot Levi – And a man went from the house of Levi and took a daughter of Levi.”

In the craft of writing each item can be described actively or passively, and experts say one should generally go with active phrasing. Why? Being active is more highly considered than passivity. Hakadosh Baruch Hu (The Author) is first of all impressing upon us the fact that this unnamed man was a go-getter. This is clear because the events described here with two verbs could have been described with none. The line could read, "A marriage took place.” Similarly, the Ramban says that the word Vayikach always indicates someone having the gumption to do something new.

That this man was a doer is no surprise, once we're told where he came from. The house of Levi was made famous not by pacifism, rather by their rapid responses to injustice. In his blessing Yaakov warns Levi about tempering their anger. And according to Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Yaakov's words allowed for the fact that in difficult times such as those described here, their vigilant approach was positive, even necessary.

You have to wonder why this woman is referred to as "daughter of Levi" considering her advanced age of a hundred and thirty. According to Rashi her youthfulness in every regard is reflected by this image.

The idea that this was a second marriage is deduced from the existence of older children in addition to the baby born soon after this marriage. The Ramban explains that Amram and Yocheved married once, some time before the decree. The previous births are not relevant here, but the birth of Moshe is THE story and therefore mentioned now.

The Ramban addresses why the man and woman are not named; suggesting it’s a literary technique of conserving words. The focus here is the birth of Moshe Rabeinu. Later, we're told more about Moshe as redeemer. Once the plot line is developed Moshe’s entire genealogy is listed.

Rashi tells the story of little Miriam convincing her father that he must immediately remarry her mother rather than caving in to Par'oh's threat.
The Kli Yakar writes that this story is alluded to by the Torah’s carefully chosen words: "Vayelech – he went " should be followed by a geographic location. Due to the absence of a named place, Chapel reframed the definition of "Vayelech" here, based on this word's usage elsewhere, in the context of divorce (Devarim 24:2). That a woman is aptly referred to as the bayit-home is evident from the Gemorah where Rav Yossi states " I've never called my wife my wife, rather have always referred to my wife as my home" - Shabbos 118b). (See “You’re My Home - Billy Joel ad. Loc.) The name Levi is significant, as we know from Leah's naming of the original Levi:" Now my husband will become close with me". Thus, from the words comes the story: the husband separated from his wife with whom he had been intimate, only to return to "bot Levi" the woman with whom he had been close with and would be close with again.

Rabbi Yisoschar Frand explains why these parents are not mentioned by name via a striking statement of the Rambam. The Rambam states that anyone can be a tzadik like Moshe Rabeinu. If the parents were named, we might attribute Moshe's accomplishments to his parents. The mishna in Avot states that one shouldn't assume greatness will come based on lineage because "Aina Yerusha Lach-these things aren't automatically inherited."

Rav Hutner once received a letter from a distraught talmid who was suffering a slump. In his response Rav Hutner thanked him for his uplifting letter, explaining that feeling tension means the battle is half won. He proposes that we mistakenly imagine the Chafetz Chaim coming out of the womb as the inspiration of a nation. Rav Hutner writes that in all likeliness Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan underwent great, unimaginable turmoil towards becoming the Chofetz Chaim. Rav Hutner said that this talmid’s sense of frustration was an indication of his desire to reclaim his potential greatness. The comfort and complacency that sometimes accompany early success can be a curse in disguise, leaving a legacy of comfortable complacency. Perhaps (if we're allowed to say this) Moshe’s early disappointments in confronting both Par'oh and his own nation were necessary pieces of the process of his becoming Moshe Rabeinu.

None of us are born into a vacuum. And we are born in certain times and places for specific reasons. The Eben Ezra posits that Moshe Rabeinu was raised in Par'ohs palace in preparation for his role. There Moshe attained the assertiveness and lack of star-struckedness needed to depose the king of Egypt. Who our parents are can not be minimized as a major in who we become. However, there is also the concept of the crown of Torah's availability to all, and the statement of the Rambam about us all being able to achieve Moshe’s greatness, though often reinterpreted and weakened, must be reckoned with at face value.

May G-d bless us all to become who we're meant to be, through much joy, and with as little pain as possible.

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