The birth of Moses is originally shrouded in genealogical mystery. We are not immediately told who his parents are. His sister remains anonymous, even as the text describes her important role in ensuring his safety. Indeed, in Shemot, which means ‘names’, Moses’ family remains nameless when we first encounter them.
Later, in several places, the identity of Moses’ biological family is revealed. Our Parsha is one example: “The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam.”
These names embody much meaning. Amram means ‘an exalted nation’. Jochebed might mean ‘the honour of God’. These names might have offered comfort to the Hebrew slaves of the time. Nevertheless, the Torah omits these inspiring names when introducing the early life of Moses.
A family unit consisting of parents with children gradually changes as children reach adulthood. When siblings are children, they live together. As they mature, they slowly leave their family, often establishing a family of their own. Moses is different; he is raised in separation from his biological parents and siblings. His growth is shaped by his ability to return to them in an extremely meaningful way. Rather than the siblings slowly maturing and building separate lives, they partner to co-lead a nation.
A consistent theme appearing in the Torah is the rejection of the idea that a family is a temporary social unit. We are challenged to follow the pattern experienced by Moses in which our relationship with our parents and siblings becomes more meaningful, as we become more independent.
The commandment to honour one’s parents is not a lullaby song to young children telling them to tidy up their room when asked to do so. Rather it is a calling to mature, independent adults, who are genuinely busy looking after their own families, to prioritise their relationship with parents and siblings, and maintain their family bond, wherever they are in the world.
- Rabbi Boruch M Boudilovsky serves Young Israel of North Netanya