Shemos: Parallels and Divergences
Post-Parshah Point: Shemos
There are some interesting parallels - and contrasts - between the experiences of Moshe (Moses) in the third aliya of parshas shemos (Exod 2:11-22), and of Yaakov (Jacob) found at the beginning of parshas vayetze (Gen 29 1:18). In both cases:
- The protagonist is escaping for his life from a murderous adversary, ironically one with whom he previously shared a home (Moshe-Pharaoh, Yaakov-Esav).
- He runs to a foreign land, halting by a well where shepherds are gathering.
- He violates local custom by coming to the aid of a shepherdess who would otherwise be delayed/prevented from watering her sheep.
- He is welcomed to the home of the shepherdess' father, accepts a job tending his flock, and marries the shepherdess he had aided.
However, it is at this point that the critical divergence occurs. In Yaakov's case, the details of his love for Rachel, the years of work he undertakes on her behalf, and the associated trials and tribulations of his marriages to her and her sister, form a central place in his subsequent narrative. Whereas, in Moshe's case, he appears entirely passive; he is "willing" (vayoel) to live with Yisro, who "gives" Moshe his daughter Tzipporah in marriage. As Rabbi Hertz so eloquently puts it:
"One cannot help contrasting the breadth with which the wooing of both Isaac and Jacob is recounted, with the extraordinary, nay irreducible, brevity with which the wooing of Moses is told. What we would call the 'romantic' element in the story of Moses disappears like a bubble..."And there is a final disparity that can be noted - the long-term results of each union. In Yaakov's case, his beloved wives bore the twelve Shevatim, the forefathers of the fledgling nation of Israel. While in Moshe's case, little to nothing is known about his sons, let along his later descendants, except for a cryptic passage in Judges (18:30) which states that one of his grandchildren, Yehonasan, may have become an idolatrous priest! In next week's parshah, when the Torah provides the lineage of Moshe and Aaron (Exod 6:16-25), only the latter's children are listed; Moshe's are entirely omitted. This exact approach occurs once again in parshas bamidbar (Num 3:1-3). Moshe's children have vanished from the scene as if they never existed.
It is surely true that the competing obligations and responsibilities of duty and family, of the personal and the communal, are dilemmas that all leaders, ancient and modern, must face. Perhaps it was to alert Moshe to the potential consequences of these difficult choices, that God chose to provide him with such a sudden and drastic object-lesson (Exod 4:24-26) just before he assumed his duties to his people. Chazal differ as to the details of Moshe's offense, but nearly all connect it with the dereliction of a familial duty due to all-consuming involvement in a public one.
I leave it to each of you, to all who struggle with the daily need to balance "work" and "home", to draw what conclusions you may.