Torah Reading:  Parshat Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1

Haftora: Yirmiyah 1:1 - 2:3

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:10 PM

Shabbat Ends: 9:17 PM 



 A Mother's Role

A Study in Contrasts

A significant portion of this week’s parsha is dedicated to the census and Jewish genealogy. The census was needed to count the Jews who survived the plague that killed off thousands of Jews who had consorted with the daughters of Moav and Midian and succumbed to their demands to worship their idol Ba’al.

When the Biblical text addresses the genealogy of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, the Torah states the following:

The name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi... And she bore to Amram: Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam.

To Aaron were born Nadav and Avihu, Elezar and Isamar. Nadav and Avihu died when they brought an alien fire before G‑d.

A careful examination of these verses will show that Yocheved, and not Amram, is credited with the birth of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, whereas Aaron’s sons are ascribed to Aaron and not his wife Elisheva. Why the difference?

One possible way to explain this inconsistency is that the birth of Yocheved’s children represented a different dynamic than the birth of Aaron’s four sons. Moses, Aaron and Miriam were the physical and spiritual products of Yocheved, more so than their father Amram, whereas Aaron’s sons’ lives were more traceable to Aaron than to his wife.

How to Determine Jewish Identity?

When we consider the way in which we determine a person’s identity in our faith community, the Torah gives precedence to the mother. Jewish law is unequivocal: A Jew is one who is either born to a Jewish mother or who has converted to Judaism in accordance with the dictates of Halacha.

[It should be noted, parenthetically, that contrary to recent attempts at revisionism, this has always been the case. The Talmud makes it abundantly clear, derived from Biblical sources, that Jewish identity is determined exclusively by matrilineal lineage. There was never a doubt about this.]

However, when determining one’s secondary identity, i.e.; whether one is a Kohain, Levy or an Israelite, or determining one’s tribal affiliation, it is the father’s situation which drives that determination.

The Rebbe provides a rationale for this division of identity rules:

The mother has a uniquely close and intimate relationship with her child. She conceives, and then carries her offspring within her body for nine months. The fetus is a part of the mother. Once the child is born, she nurtures the infant and puts even more of her physical and emotional efforts into the child. The mother, therefore, is the parent who establishes her child’s essential identity.

The father, by contrast, contributes a secondary measure of both physical and emotional influence on his offspring. The father, therefore, only determines a person’s secondary identity; that of his or her tribal affiliation. If the father hails from the tribe of Yehudah, then his child will also be counted as a member of that tribe without regard to the tribal identity of the mother. However, the more essential and uniform aspect of a Jew is his or her Jewish identity and not a tribal affiliation.

Establishing the Essential Identity and Role of the Jewish Nation

Therefore, we may suggest, the Torah credited Yocheved with the birth of Moses, Aaron and Miriam and not their father Amram, despite our Sages’ high regard for him as the leader of his generation.  With all due respect to Amram, it was Yocheved, their mother, who was responsible for the role of Moses, Aaron and Miriam as the leaders who established the fundamental identity of Jews for all times.

Moses, Aaron and Miriam were the first leaders of the Jewish people, who shepherded them in their most formative years after their “birth,” the Exodus from Egypt and receipt of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Indeed, all three played pivotal roles in the birth of the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt.

Moses and Aaron were sent by G‑d to demand of Pharaoh “let My people go, so they may serve Me.” They were G‑d’s human instruments, who channeled His power to bring upon Egypt the Ten Plagues that led to the freedom of their people.

In truth, in some ways Miriam played an even more fundamental role than her brothers. It was she, with her insistence that her father Amram and the other men not give up on family life, who set the stage for their liberation. Indeed, she was the prophet who saw that Moses would be the redeemer. She inspired the faith of the Jewish people that G‑d would ultimately liberate them. Without this faith, the Jewish slaves would have surrendered to their plight and remained perpetual slaves; if not to Pharaoh, then to other tyrannical forces.

Moses, Aaron and Miriam continued to supply the Jewish nation in its most formative years with the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual resources needed to survive the 40 years in the desert. Moses, Aaron and Miriam were the channel though which G‑d provided the nation with Manna, Clouds of Glory and water, respectively. They were in the thick and thin of Jewish life, which provided the Jewish people with the stamina and courage to survive and flourish for all time and against all odds.

Moses, Aaron and Miriam nurtured the fledgling Jewish nation, preserved, influenced and established its essential identity. They inherited this power to enable the birth of our Jewish existence, primarily, from their mother Yocheved.

By contrast, the role of the Kohanim (Priests) that Aaron conferred on his sons was of a secondary nature in terms of its impact on their/our existence. It represented an added-on distinction and an enhanced role in their/our Jewishness. Aaron is therefore credited as the father of the first Kohanim, whose role was to add color and nuance to the fundamental identity of the Jewish people.

“We Will be Liberated in the Merit of the Women”

We can now understand the saying of our Sages that, just as the women were responsible for the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, so too the women will be the primary shakers and movers in bringing about the Final Redemption.

The Final Redemption, like its forerunner the Exodus from Egyptian bondage, represents a fundamental change to our identity. Indeed, there can be no greater change than that which will be wrought by the Final Redemption, which will catapult us into the Messianic Age of universal peace and unprecedented exposure to the Divine.

The Messianic Age, led by a leader who personifies and combines the diverse traits of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, will establish our ultimate essential soul identity. To effect such a radical transformation, we need the power of the Yocheveds of this world. We need the power of women, expressed by their faith, courage and nurturing powers, to effect this most fundamental change of our society