Friday, December 28, 2018

Moses’ Mysterious and Mortal Maternity

Moses is arguably the central and most important figure in the Hebrew Bible. Maimonides advances that of the 55 Jewish prophets, Moses’ type of prophecy was quite different and far more elevated than the other 54. No mortal knew God as did Moses, “face-to-face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). That is why he is simply known as Rabbeinu, our teacher.

After describing the enslavement of the Children of Israel under the Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), the Torah records Moses’ birth, how his mother hid him from the Egyptian soldiers who were enforcing Pharaoh’s edict to drown the baby boys, and Moses’ miraculous salvation by the daughter of Pharaoh.

Therefore, the opening verse to the Bible’s greatest protagonist seems odd and grossly understated. “And a man went from the house of Levi and took [married] a daughter of Levi" (2:1). The names of this man, Amram, and this “daughter of Levi,” Yocheved, who were Moses’ parents, are not even disclosed until a later chapter.

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rabbi Nissan of Vilna, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi, suggested an interesting reason. In the commentary, he advances that given how central Moses is to the Jewish religion, the Torah sought to stress that he was but a mortal, born of mortals, in an effort to avoid even the slightest appearance of any deification, as is seen in other faiths.

God also buried Moses in an undisclosed location, with no witnesses, to avoid any deification. Praying to a person would fall under the severe prohibition of idolatry, a cardinal sin. Had Moses’s burial spot been known, well-meaning pilgrims may have traveled to that location to worship him, instead of God. Although most Jews maintain the custom of visiting the burial sites of loved ones and holy individuals for heavenly intervention, there is a minority who strongly oppose the practice, as one could inadvertently pray to the deceased, a violation of idolatry, instead of asking the dead to intercede with God, the true and sole destination of all prayers.

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