Moses' Family: What were they like?

            August 2012    
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Families, Then and Now

By Ted Roberts

The next time you're tempted to complain about your family - they don't love you enough, they forget your birthday - cruise through your Chumash. Consider Moses.

  No, Judaism doesn't deify its heroes or their families. Moses, our Number 1 man - in between his managerial duties and occasional face-to-face meetings with the Boss of Heaven, earth, and ocean - tied his shoes one by one just like us. (Hillel says he tied the right shoe first - Shammai, as usual, leads the "left shoe" school of thought - but it's still under discussion in modern Orthodox circles.)

  Interestingly, the family of No. 1 gets little press. His parents are skimpily named and that's it. Amram and Yochevit. Whether Amram was a chariot salesman or a shoemaker, we don't know. Was Yochevit an indulgent mother? Could she cook? Who knows except you-know-who and He doesn't tell us.

  Who and what framed the character of this beloved of G-d? And of course his background - his formative years in the Egyptian court are equally cloudy. Unlike the three patriarchs, we get very little data. Later, we hear whispers of Miriam and of course Aaron. We know for one thing that they envied his relationship with the Almighty. Moses must have loved - even as you and I - his brother Aaron. He not only forgave his jealousy, but pardoned that huge apostasy of the Golden Calf. Wow, what a blunder and yet Aaron gets off scot-free. That takes tons of forgiveness. Especially since Aaron's apologies are so flimsy. "Well," he says, "I cast it into the fire (the gold) and this calf came out." A defense so weak it almost sounds like a touch of humor. Could this be the streak of the irony that Harold Bloom, the secular critic, finds in our Holy Book? A prosecuting attorney would have a picnic with that defense.

  Aaron adds that his co-defendant "the people" are "set on evil". Not a great performance by the brother of a man who regularly dialogues with the Creator of the Universe. To make matters worse the Levites, led by the guilty Aaron, kill 3000 Israelites at the behest of Moses. A just and merciful G-d must have looked down in horror. And later He promises more punishment. About now He must be regretful about his promise not to reprise the flood.

  Yes, Moses' family is a strange one - as dysfunctional as our own. But shocking one must admit, when paired with our first and best prophet - about whom we know so little except that his best friend is the G-d of the Universe. Where did he get those relatives? Ask the Bible scholars.

  The mystery continues with his choice of a Midianite as his bride - or is she a Cushite, as Miriam chides her. Whatever she is, she's not a full-blooded Israelite who rarely misses a Hadassah meeting. Another mystery to ponder!

  Mystery of mysteries, this man Moses who guided, prodded, cowboyed you might say our "stiff-necked" ancestors through the wilds of the Sinai Peninsula. A man who only stared in admiration - but never entered the lush land that was his heart's goal.

  Well, Abraham had Lot who couldn't wait to move into the Sodom and Gomorrah red light district and Jacob had Esau and Isaac put up with Ishmael. And later there's father David who was challenged by a bevy of rambunctious sons. But more about that later.

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from the August 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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