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   by Jacob Solomon

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These are the heads of the families. The sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israelů (6:14)

As Moses faces confronting Pharaoh as G-d's emissary, the Torah text interrupts - and begins to record the principle divisions of the Israelites. In chronological order, it briefly lists the genealogy of the tribes of Reuben and Simeon, and then enumerates the descendants of Levi into further generations - ending with highlighting Moses and Aaron: 'They are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh the King of Egypt with the purpose of taking the Israelites out of Egypt' (6:28).

The Torah begins to record the generations of the Twelve Tribes. On this occasion - unlike after Baal Peor (Num. 26:5 ff.) - the listings stop abruptly after Levi. The tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are enumerated. Even though the main foci of the text are Moses and Aaron, many of the commentators raise the issue of why no other tribe gets a mention this time round.

The Kli Yakar recounts that the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were the only ones that suffered rebuke from Jacob - who had the power to bless and curse whom he wished (following Rashi to Gen. 12:3, and Gen. 28:4). Reuben was told that he would not receive firstborn status because of his interference in his father's domestic arrangements (Gen. 49:4). Simeon and Levi had 'their anger' cursed, and would be 'divided' and 'scattered' (Gen. 49:7) among the Israelites, because of those they killed at the city of Shechem. The Kli Yakar views the text as act of sifting through the tribes of Israel to find the savior and lawgiver of the Israelites (rather like Samuel with the sons of Jesse before alighting on David - Sam. I 16: 6-12). The right people - Moses and Aaron - were found. No more sifting required.

The idea may be expanded by looking at why Levi - one of the three tribes of darker origins - was the one which would produce Moses and Aaron. 'On paper' it would seem more likely that they would emanate from the other tribes: specifically from Judah, which was associated with royalty and authority (Gen. 49: 8-10).

In examining this issue: though all three tribes did not have the most pristine beginnings, they still had the free choice as to how to act in their limiting framework set by Jacob. Reuben was denied the birthright, but his descendants were to attempt break out of that framework (with disastrous consequences) through Dathan and Aviram, as backers of Korach's rebellion against Moses and Aaron (Num. 16:1 ff. and 26:9). Simeon's offspring accepted their lot - neither seeking to improve it nor detract from it - and therefore took their possessions in the Holy Land 'scattered' amongst the tribe of Judah, without the privilege of defining tribal geographical borders. By contrast, Levi's children were pro-active - epitomized by Moses' initiative in his intervention on behalf of the suffering Israelites, and his high degree of integrity within Jethro's household. Moses never became a king - that was left to the descendants of Benjamin and Judah, but he became something in his own right - an interceder, a leader, and a medium through which were presented the eternal laws and values of the Torah.

When suffering a blow, we may choose to vainly fight against it, ignore it, or turn it into a means of progress in a hitherto unexplored direction. The choice is ours.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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