Rabbi Morris is the rabbi of Young Israel of Southfield in Southfield, MI.
After his initial failure in Parshat Shemot to achieve freedom for the Jewish people, Moshe once again was instructed by Hashem to confront Pharaoh with his demands for emancipation. This new command immediately followed the Jewish people’s indifference after hearing Hashem’s promise of redemption using the four expressions of Geula.
At this point Moshe could not fathom how his new mission could prove successful. “Behold,” Moshe responded, “ Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Pharaoh now listen…?”
Fifteen Pesukim later, the narrative continues with Hashem repeating his instruction and Moshe reiterating his reservations. Finally Moshe acquiesces and departs to confront Pharaoh.
Before imparting these final instructions, the Torah interrupts the narrative and in fifteen Pesukim, records the lineage of the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Levi. Although it is interesting to know Moshe’s family background, why does the Torah specifically record it at this point?
It would seem that Hashem was reminding Moshe to recall his roots and family history. They too, had suffered setbacks. They also had to overcome great challenges. The Gemara in Sotah (12a) recounts how Amram had separated from his wife Yocheved after hearing Pharaoh’s decree to murder all Jewish baby boys. Heroically, their daughter, Miriam, intervened and convinced her parents to reconsider. Although the future appeared difficult and frightening, Amram and Yocheved now understood that they had to act if there was any chance for a better tomorrow. Even amid the darkness and despair they had to come together to create a family and plant the seeds for their people’s salvation.
This critical message, of vison, hope and commitment was now being imparted by Hashem to Moshe. Yes, it was doubtful that Pharaoh would change his mind. The Jewish people themselves were in such a state, that they were unable to dream of any change to their current predicament. Moshe, however, had to look beyond all of that. Similar to his parents, he had to act to make a difference. The hallmark of his family was this ability to overcome despair and setback, pick up the pieces and move forward in a positive direction.
It is notable that the tribes of Reuven and Shimon are also mentioned in the genealogy in Parshat Va’era. Perhaps their listing bolstered Hashem’s message. Moshe was being reminded to not repeat the regretful and tragic past mistakes of Reuven and Shimon. Each one had been unable to overcome their previous failings. Levi’s descendants, Yocheved and Amram, however were able to move beyond Levi’s initial failure with his brother, Shimon, in Shechem. They were the model that Moshe was now being told to emulate. Change was possible. A new reality could and would emerge. With effort, focus, and commitment, darkness and setback could be turned into salvation and redemption.
With the creation of the State of Israel less than seventy years ago, the Jewish people have demonstrated that they have internalized this message. With vision, determination, strength and wisdom, our people transformed their past reality and predicament. By not allowing the challenging and often painful past to deter them, they continued to dream and with boldness and heroic effort they turned those dreams into a beautiful and triumphant new reality.