By Rabbi Leibel Gniwisch
Parashat Shemot – Exodus 1:1 – 6:1
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Amram, son of Kehot, led the Jewish people in Egypt and fathered three of the greatest leaders in Jewish history: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. This article will provide a sparse recounting of his life based upon information gleaned from The Five Books, Talmud, Midrash, and the commentaries.
Amram Marries Jochebed
Later, G‑d would forbid marrying one’s aunt, but at that time it was still permitted. Why did Moses come from a union that would ultimately become forbidden? Tradition explains that Moses was born from such a union so that he would retain his humility.2
Amram Remarries Jochebed
“A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.”3
This verse, a prelude to Moses’ birth, indicates that Amram divorced Jochebed and married her again.4 Talmud fills in the gaps:
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After Pharoah decreed that all baby boys must be killed, Amram divorced his wife. “We are toiling for nothing!” he said. “All our boys will be killed anyway!” When the Jews saw this great man uncouple, they followed suit.
Miriam turned to her father and accused: “You are worse than Pharoah! Pharaoh only commanded that the boys be killed; your decree prevents girls’ births as well! Pharaoh’s decree affects boys in this world, but yours affects them in the world to come too! Pharaoh is wicked and his decree may be foiled. You, father, are righteous and your order will endure!”
Amram heeded his daughter’s sage advice and remarried his wife with all the pomp associated with a first marriage. He publicized his marriage and encouraged the rest of the people to remarry their wives as well.
Later, when Moses was born, Amram kissed Miriam and thanked her for her advice.5
Different reasons are given for why Amram’s and Jochebed’s names aren’t mentioned in the verse, “A man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.”6
Nachmanides7 explains that this was a technical choice. Whenever new characters are introduced, the Torah connects them with people who have already been mentioned. Had Amram’s and Jochebed’s names been specified here, the Torah would have had to trace their lineage back to Levi. The Torah wanted to wait until later to do so. In Exodus 6, the Torah mentions Amram’s name for the first time and reveals his relationship to Levi: Levi had three sons, Gershon, Kehot, and Merari; Amram was Kehot’s oldest son.8
The Zohar explains Amram’s name allegorically. “Am ram” means “exalted nation,” alluding to Amram’s children who were exceptionally great.9
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth
Amram was one of seven righteous men who helped bring G‑d’s presence back to earth.10
When G‑d created the world, His presence, the Shechinah, was revealed. In the seven succeeding generations, the Shechinah departed, rising from one heaven to the next because of humankind’s many sins.
Then, seven generations of righteous men, tzadikim, arose, and caused the Shechinah to descend back into the world:
Amram was one of four people said to have died because of the “advice of the snake.” The snake refers to the serpent that advised Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. These men were without sin and would have lived forever. They only died because G‑d had decreed mortality on all humans after Eve ate from the tree.11
Some attribute Moses’ appointment as leader of the people as a reward for Amram’s righteousness.12
- Exodus 6:20; Numbers 26:59.
- Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach (Chizkuni) onExodus 6:20.
- Exodus 2:1.
- Aaron and Miriam were older than Moses and their births aren’t mentioned as a result of this union, indicating it must then been their second marriage (Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi on Exodus 2:1).
- Sotah 12a; Midrash Exodus Rabbah 1:13.
- Exodus 2:1.
- On Exodus 2:1.
- Exodus 6:16, 18.
- Zohar, Exodus 19a.
- Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 5:1
- Shabbat 55b.
- Tana Debei Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 31.
Rabbi Leibel Gniwisch currently resides, along with his wife, in Brooklyn, New York, where he received his rabbinical ordination. He has taught Jewish law at various schools in the US. He has a passion for Jewish scholarship and writing and hopes to publish a book one day.