The Decision

Moshe is born and the Jewish saga in Egypt shifts into a new chapter. The Jewish slaves are being mercilessly crushed by Egyptian oppression as their infant babies are flung to death into the Nile River. In Egypt hatred has begotten slavery and slavery had morphed into genocide. It appeared as if the entire Jewish nation was slated for annihilation.

At this dark moment the greatest man to ever inhabit our planet is born. The epic birth of Moshe is preceded by verses describing the marriage of Moshe's parents – identities that are surprisingly concealed. The Torah merely narrates about a “man” from the house of Levi who married a “woman” from the house of Levi, who subsequently bore Moshe. Why is the birth of this future savior, who transformed Jewish history, outlined with a mysterious marriage of people whose names are disguised?

Additionally, this marriage of Moshe's parents had actually occurred years earlier. After all, Moshe was the third child and this couple had already produced two older siblings – Aharon and Miriam.

The introduction to Moshe's life is very peculiar. The Torah describes a marriage which had occurred in the past and doesn’t reveal the names of his parents.

The midrash fills in the blanks and provides an interesting “backstory.” Facing devastating Egyptian cruelty, Amram, Moshe’s father, separated from his wife Yocheved. Whether he formally divorced her is unclear, but he certainly discontinued normal marital relations. Expanding their family under these circumstances would be pointless and even pathetic – as it would just provide more fodder for the crocodiles of the Nile. Without any horizons of hope, continued family life seemed futile and Moshe's father chose the only practical option – surrender.

At this stage Moshe’s older sister, Miriam, intervened, pleading with her father to reconsider his fateful decision. As Amram was a high-profile leader, his decision could trigger “copycat behavior” leading to wide-scale divorces and a complete unraveling of Jewish family life in Egypt. Heeding his daughter’s warning, Amram reunited with his wife, Yocheved, reinforcing Jewish family life despite the unbearable pressure of Egyptian torture. For this reason, Amram’s decision is presented anonymously: his personal decision to reunite with Yocheved had ripple effects for countless other marriages. When this high-profile leader doubled down on his own marriage, others followed suit. His private decision is described in collective or generic terms because it inspired a community of husbands and wives to steer their marital course and defy Egyptian torture.

This private decision ultimately reshapes human history. Amram faces a nightmarish world in which newborn babies are fed to voracious beasts. He sees no purpose in further expanding his family so he “folds his tent.” However, he soon discovers that we can’t always control the broader calculus of our “broken" world, but we can author our own shape our personal response to the surrounding chaos. The world around us may go dark with evil but we can always maintain the “moral line” and take decisions of conscience and courage. For reasons which often lie beyond human comprehension, God sometimes allows evil to flourish. It is difficult to decipher this mystery and humans often struggle to comprehend Divine logic in a bleak world of rampaging evil. Despite these unknowns and the frustration it sometimes causes, faith and conviction empowers us to maintain our own religious and moral principles even if we can’ calculate the impact upon a muddled and chaotic uninviting world. Like Amram, we often must act with moral courage and rely upon God to solve the broader calculus.

I often ponder Holocaust survivors who quickly remarried and rebuilt their families while bringing new babies into their world. What were they thinking and how could they introduce new life into such a bleak and nightmarish world?  Little did they know that the children born in the immediate aftermath of WWII would, one day, march in the fields of redemption and pioneer and new era of history. Little did they know that children born in refugee camps, or in temporary havens across the globe, would one day resettle the Jewish homeland on behalf of Jewish history. They couldn’t have foreseen this outcome and yet they "labored on" under unimaginable conditions, maintaining their moral courage. Sometimes we must defy history, battling confusion and fear. Our inability to decipher the broader equation doesn’t acquit us from the core responsibilities of religious and morality.

The midrash also mentions that after this reunion, Moshe's mother, aged 130, experienced a physical rejuvenation, enabling her to become pregnant with a little boy who would be the future savior. Had Amram not heeded Miriam’s call, this miraculous rejuvenation may not have occurred. Even it did, it may not have mattered, as Yocheved would have remained unmarried. God often awaits human initiative and provides supernatural intervention only after humans have defied their conditions and launched their own redemptive cycles.

The Amram saga also reminds us that moral energy, and not headline-grabbing events, drive human history. Amram’s epic decision, hatched privately and without fanfare or public notice, changed history. It was a quiet decision – to continue building family life under crushing conditions of persecution – that turned the tide of history. In a modern world of fanfare and self-promotion, it is crucial to remind ourselves that history is driven by our daily ‘unnoticed’ moral decisions. Politics come and go and policies of one generation are quickly swept away by the sands of time and erased by future generations. Even military confrontations, which appear to deeply impact the shape of human experience, leave only temporary impressions upon history. More often it is the quiet and unnoticed moral decisions – taken day after day – that shape our own lives and deeply impact the lives of our families and communities. The impact of these decisions can ricochet for generations, long after political and military influences have faded. With all of Pharaoh’s decrees and public posturing, it was a quiet decision of a nameless man and an unknown woman that turned the tide of history.