ואלה שמות בני לוי לתלדתם גרשון וקהת ומררי ושני חיי לוי שבע ושלשים ומאת שנה
These are the sons of Levi in order of their birth: Gershon, Kehas, and Merari; the years of Levi’s life were one hundred and thirty seven years (6:16)
In Parshas Shemos (2:11), the Torah tells us that although Moshe Rabbeinu was brought up in the splendor of the palace, he still remained the son of Amram and Yocheved. ויצא אל אחיו וירא בסבלתם- and he went out to his brethren and observed their burdens. As Rashi explains, his intention in going out was to see their sufferings and grieve with them. Despite his royal upbringing, he was still able to identify with the pain and suffering of his brethren. This ability to be a נושא בעול חברו-(lit.) a carrier of someone else’s burden, was the hallmark of Moshe, defining who he really was.
But where do such instincts come from? How can it be that a child, raised in his parents’ home for such a short period of time during the earliest part of his life can be imbued with such love and feelings for a fellow Jew?
Time and time again, we find instances in the Torah where we see the concept of “spiritual DNA” at work (eg. the story of Dinah “going out”, Rashi notes that like mother like daughter). Most famously, the Ramban advised every Yid to pay close attention to the actions of our Avos, because Maaseh Avos Siman Labanim.
Looking at our parsha, we see how it was that Moshe Rabbeinu would come to the very character trait that would stamp him as the future redeemer of Klal Yisroel.
The possuk tells us that the names of the children born to Levi were Gershon, Kehas, and Merari. The Shelah HaKadosh notes that these names were inspired by the times that they were living in. Gershon, (lit. a stranger over there) - because they were now in the land of their exile and slavery. Kehas (lit. sour) and Merari (lit. bitter) - because of the harsh and bitter enslavement that the Jews were forced to endure in Mitzrayim.
The Shelah asks the obvious question: Of all the people naming children -Levi? He is the one that gives names based on the hardships? What did Levi even know about tough times? Did he ever lift a brick in his life? Was he ever honored by feeling the crack of a whip on his back because he was unable to keep up with the impossible demands of his taskmaster? As a clergyman, Levi and his entire shevet had the privilege of learning the Torah the entire day and not rolling up the sleeves to join in the back breaking labour. (Yes, even Pharaoh understood that the clergy must be able to serve HaShem at all times!)
Yet, it is Levi that names his children as such, because he has the unique ability to commiserate with his brethren and feel their pain. This was Levi’s way of sharing the pain with the others. Each and every time that he would call one of his sons, he would be hit with the constant reminder of the suffering. Even inside of the Beis Hamidrash, Levi would be reminded of the plight of his brothers.
Taking this a step further, we can clearly see how this trait of being in tune with other people and feeling their pain would show up in the DNA of a future generation.
By contrast, let us take a look at another “subplot” in this week’s parsha. Confronted with the first plague brought upon Mitzrayim, Pharaoh was ready to let the Jews go. After all, his country would not be able to survive without any water, and blood was by all accounts not a good substitute. Furthermore, all fish-life that was in the River died and the River became foul, Mitzrayim could not drink water from the River, and the blood was throughout the land of Mitzrayim.
About to concede, the magicians of Pharaoh told him, “not so fast! We can do that too.” Upon witnessing his magicians doing what appeared to be the same, Pharaoh’s heart was once again hardened and he chose not to let them go.
The Meshech Chochma (=M”C) points out that the next possuk seems to be superfluous:
ויפן פרעה ויבא אל ביתו ולא שת לבו גם לזאת- Pharaoh turned away and came to his palace. He did not take this to heart either (7:23). What should have changed upon reaching his palace?
The M”C tells us a huge chiddush- novelty, that even though the entire country was now reduced to blood (save for the Jewish homes), inside of the palace, there was water.
The midrash relates that if an Egyptian wanted, he was able to purchase water from a Jew. The M”C reasons that surely, it was as if Pharaoh had paid for water for his entire palace many times over because he raised Moshe as a child.
Concluding this idea, it may have been that as Pharaoh walked away from Moshe, reality quickly hit him. “I cannot run a country without water. What was I thinking? Of course I will let them go.” But the second he walked into his palace and saw that for him, there was water, the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” came to play. Thus, after entering his home and seeing the water, he no longer took to heart what everyone else was going through. Why would he care if his entire country did not have a drop of water, after all, in his home all was fine and dandy.
Maaseh Avos Siman Labanim- it is in our DNA to care for others and feel what they are going through. It may be difficult to walk in someone else’s shoes, but we can ask ourselves whom we want to follow, Moshe Rabbeinu or Pharaoh?
Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל