Presence and Absence of Naming & Names in Torah—by Matia Kam

Presence and Absence of Naming & Names in Torah
Matia Kam

Moses Fresco National Museum of Syria, Damascus Date: 244

On Being a Levite
“These are the names of Lev’s sons according to their lineage” (6:16)
“Amram took for a wife his father’s sister Jochebed and she bore him Aaron and Moses”(6:20)
Torah begins chapter six with a list of names and lineages to place Aaron and Moses in the genealogy as the descendants of Kohath, one of Levi’s sons. The list of names starts with Reuben, the eldest, followed by Simeon, who was followed by Levi. This outlines the lineage and takes up the names Amram and Jochebed who were nameless in the previous Parsha (mentioned there only as a Levite man and a Levite woman, and as “the child’s mother”). In this Parsha, in chapter six we have a detailed four-generation family that includes names of Aaron’s wife, his children’s names and his grandson Phinehas. So who is absent from the list? Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron and most significantly Moses’ wife and children are absent. This is curious since the text states twice that the purpose of the list is to describe “Aaron and Moses” (6:26-27) yet it surely strikes us that Moses family is not mentioned.

Here we have to fill in the gaps from other places in the book of Exodus. In chapter 4 we learn about Moses’ second son but his name is not mentioned; we do know that after Moses took on God’s direction to return to Egypt “Moses took his wife and sons” (4:20).

Later in Parshat Yitro at the time in between the exodus and Sinai, Yitro heard “all that God had done for Moses and His people Israel” and decided to go find Moses and he took with him his daughter Zipporah and the two sons, his grandchildren. As the story of Yitro’s visit to Moses unfolds we find out two family facts: Zipporah did not come to Egypt with Moses, she returned to her father’s house, and Moses did have two sons when he lived in Midian; we learn that he named his second son Eliezer meaning “the God of my forefather’s came to my aide and saved me from Pharaoh’s sword.” All these details that we assemble from Torah are missing from among the names in this Parsha.

In much of Torah the absence of Moses’ family, his wife and sons, is notable. For example in the counting of Numbers we find, “This is the line of Moses and Aaron” (Numbers 3:1) once again there is a detailed description of the line of Aaron, nothing about the line of Moses. Rashi pays attention this silence and reminds the readers that Torah “mentions only Aaron’s sons.” Rashi’s commentary focuses on the words “the line of Aaron and Moses” to note that it was Moses who taught his nephews Torah, since a person who teaches other children Torah is as though there were his children.

Yet, Rashi does not shed light on why Moses’ sons names were left out.

We need to turn all the way to the end of TANAHC. In Chronicles I we read “Moses the man of God—his sons would be reckoned as the tribe of Levi. The sons of Moses Gersom and Eliezer. Of the sons of Gershom, Shebuel, the chief. The sons of Eliezer, Rehabiah the chief. Eliezer had no other sons, but the sons of Rehabiah proliferated greatly.”

Rather than tie up everything nicely we are still left with the question, why the silence between Exodus and Chronicles I. Some commentators attribute it to the fact that Zipporah, their mother, was the daughter of a Medianite priest before she converted and joined the Israelites, so the sons were not of the line of Levi, and therefore the text in Chronicles says “his sons would be reckoned as the tribe of Levi.”

Perhaps to soften leaving out Moses sons, the sages in the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot Tractate 7 p. 1) took up the text of Chronicles and decided that the offspring of Rehabiah, Moses grandson, proliferated and were more than (600,000) and thus God’s promise to Moses after the sin of Golden Calf, “I will make you a nation far more than they” (Deuteronomy 9:14) was fully fulfilled.