Parashat Pinhas- Learning From Yocheved
In Parashat Pinhas we read about the census that was taken shortly before Beneh Yisrael entered the Land of Israel. The Torah goes through all the tribes, listing the major families of each, and informs us of the tribe’s population. In telling of the census of the tribe of Levi, the Torah, curiously, found it necessary to make a brief interruption to mention Yocheved, the mother of Moshe Rabbenu: “The name of Amram’s wife was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi who begot her for Levi in Egypt, and she begot for Amram Aharon and Moshe, and their sister, Miriam” (26:59).
That Yocheved was deemed worthy of special mention by the Torah in this context should indicate to us that she was a unique and exceptional woman. Indeed, the Sages teach that she lived an unusually long life, well over two hundred years. Moreover, she received more “Nahat” than any Jewish mother could ever imagine. She was the mother of Moshe Rabbenu, the greatest leader and prophet our nation has ever known, and of Aharon Ha’kohen, the righteous Sadik, Kohen Gadol, and progenitor of the eternal priestly tribe. And her daughter Miriam was a beloved and revered prophetess and teacher of the women of Beneh Yisrael.
What was the source of Yocheved’s Zechut (merit)? Why was she worthy of living an exceptionally long life and seeing her three children emerge as outstanding Sadikim and leaders?
The source of her merit is told toward the beginning of the Book of Shemot, where we read of Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn males among Beneh Yisrael must be put to death. Yocheved was one of the two primary midwives for Beneh Yisrael, and she courageously defied the royal edict and delivered the babies. She was rewarded “measure for measure” with long life and with three children who brought spiritual life to Beneh Yisrael. She had brought life to the newborn infants, and God therefore bestowed upon her the blessing of life.
Our generation has a lot to learn from Yocheved. She rescued Jewish children during the time of Egyptian bondage, a period of suffering and persecution. She brought life to these children – even though it was a life of hardship. Some people in her position might have chosen to comply with Pharaoh’s edict, if for no other reason than to spare these children the life of slavery that awaited them. But Yocheved understood the central importance of bringing Jewish children into the world, without making calculations. She was rewarded for her commitment to our nation’s growth despite the hardships to which they were subjected.
Today, unfortunately, many young couples find all kinds of reasons to delay having children, or to have only one or two children. More often than not, these are only excuses. Raising children is hard work, and so couples come up with reasons to spare themselves this “burden.” Nobody’s situation today is as difficult as Beneh Yisrael’s condition during the Egyptian bondage. If Yocheved insisted on bringing many children into the world during that period, then today’s families can certainly manage to raise sizeable families.
For good reason, the command of “Peru U’rbu” (procreation) is the first Misva in the Torah. Simply put, without Jews, there is no Judaism. Begetting and raising children has always been Am Yisrael’s highest priority, and it must continue to be our highest priority.
It must be emphasized that “Peru U’rbu” means not only having children, but also directing them toward a life of Torah commitment. The word “Rebu” has two meanings – multiplying, and directing. Yishmael, for example, was a “Robeh Kashat” – an archer (Bereshit 21:20). The term “Robeh” in this phrase means directing an arrow to a specific target. The obligation of “Rebu” similarly demands that we direct our children toward a “target,” toward a life of religious commitment.
Let us learn from the great Sadeket, Yocheved, and commit ourselves to the continued growth – both in quantity of quality – of the Jewish nation, and may we then be worthy to see our children, too, grow to become outstanding Sadikim who illuminate the world with their piety and Torah scholarship.