All in The Family
“A man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi (Exodus 2:1).” [We have discussed the absence of proper names in “Table Talk–Shemot I.”]
Perhaps this verse informs us of one of the reasons that the Children of Israel fell into the trap of slavery: “a man from the house of Levi,” “a daughter of Levi,” it seems to be all about the tribe of Levi. Perhaps we are dealing with the family no longer functioning as one family, but as divided families. A man from Levi marries a woman from Levi is all we need to know. The tribes are sticking to themselves. We are no longer dealing with a single family but twelve.
Something terrible happens when a family divides. “She could not hide him any longer, so she took for him a wicker basket and smeared it with clay and pitch; she placed the child into it and placed it among the reeds at the bank of the River.” What did this mother expect to happen to her child? “His sister stationed herself at a distance to know what would be done with him.” The sister was concerned with what would happen to the baby; not the mother and not the father. Are we to believe that she is the only person who came up with the idea of saving a child this way? Was it not a regular scene on the Nile for a bunch of baskets to be floating with Jewish babies inside?
The Children of Israel were no longer a unified family. Each tribe lived independently and separately. Perhaps, once the people began to sever strong family ties, they became inured to family connections; they could place a baby in a basket, send it down the river, and walk away.
We are taught that the tribe of Levi did not fall into the trap of slavery. It seems that although they were not tricked into becoming slaves, they absorbed some of the influence of living amongst slaves.
There are other hints in the text to this loss of family connections: “A new King arose over Egypt, who did not know of Joseph.” While we are quite critical of the king for pretending that he did not know of Joseph and for lacking gratitude, we have to wonder whether the Children of Israel were any more grateful than the new King!
No one knew where Joseph was buried. Surely the family understood that Joseph’s role in Egypt would be an important asset for them as they remained there. I would have expected the family to build. A huge mausoleum marking the place where Joseph was buried but, they did not. They too forgotten about Joseph. Another family connections severed.
“During those many days, it happened that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out.” Rashi quotes the Midrash that teaches us that Pharaoh did not actually die, but was stricken with leprosy and was instructed by his physicians to bathe in the blood of Jewish babies. Yet, they cried out, “because of the work,” not because their children were being slaughtered! Yet another family connection severed.
People who will sever such important and powerful connections will eventually lose their sense of identity. This is why, this Book, Exodus, or, “Names,” begins without names; a man from Levi, a daughter of Levi, his sister, the baby; descriptions, but no names. They had lost their sense of identity. How? By severing family connections.
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