The drama of the Exodus story has begun. Moses’ first meeting with Pharaoh has had its setback. G-d promises to redeem his people with four expressions of liberation that we reflect in our four cups of wine at the Seder.
Then, in the entire sheni or second portion, the narrative is interrupted with a list of names. We are treated to the family background of Moses and Aaron in the tribe of Levi. Moreover, the lineage of the preceding tribes of Reuven and Shimon is also included. We are given details not only of Moses and Aaron, but also their uncles and cousins, great uncles and second cousins. Then, pointing to Moses and Aaron in the midst of this wide circle of family members, the Torah says: “These were the same Moses and Aaron – on the day that G-d spoke to them.”
Why is there a need to give us this extensive family tree of Moses and Aaron?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, (whose yahrzeit was yesterday) offers a profound explanation. It was of critical importance to present the exact list of the lineage of Moses and Aaron and their relationships, so as to attest for all time that their origin was ordinary and human and that the nature of their being was ordinary and human.
There are many religions – not least Christianity – that endow their founders with a divine status. The Torah is at pains to point out that Moses was human and remained human. He may have taken the Israelites out of Egypt and ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, but he was a man of flesh of blood, a first cousin of Eltzapahan, a first cousin twice removed of Carmi. The listing of Moses’ family tree established for all time that Moses, who became the greatest man in history, was just a man, and the position he attained before G-d was not beyond the reach of mortal human beings.
There is, nevertheless, a second dimension to this list of names. Rav Hirsch explains that although Moses and Aaron were men, and nothing but men, they were chosen men. G-d’s spirit did not rest haphazardly on random individuals. There was not the sudden transformation of an ignorant and uneducated person into a Pneumatic speaking in seventy languages. Had G-d wished to endow just anyone with His spirit, there were plenty of other candidates. G-d picked Moses and Aaron as the most worthy and exemplary to be the agents of His mission. And it was Moses, the younger brother, He chose to be the supreme leader.
Dayan Ivan Binstock