Parshat Bamidbar 5780: What Became of Moshe’s Offspring, Descendants?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua Bamidbar is being sponsored Reuven and Succota Shefi-gal of Moshav Aderet lilui nishmas Reuven’s Dad Rav Avraham Moshe ben Rav Elchanan Yochanan. To the Shefi-gal family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Bamidbar 5780: What Became of Moshe’s Offspring, Descendants?

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Bamidbar opens with Hashem speaking to Moshe as the Jews camped in Bamidbar:

“And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai… on the first of the second month, in the second year after Yetziyot Mitzrayim, saying: ‘Take a census of the entire assembly of the B’nei Yisrael according to their families, according to their fathers’ household, by number of the names, every male according to their head count; from twenty years and up…'” Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 1, posukim 1-3 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

In his summary of Parshat Bamidbar, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin notes the following in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Bamidbar (page 1):

A representative from each tribe [Shevet] is Divinely chosen to assist in this census, and the results of the count are recorded, tribe by tribe.

The tribe of Levi, appointed to the service of the Sanctuary [Mishkan], is excluded from the general census. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2, posuk 33)

Rabbi Goldin now provides explanatory context regarding Shevet Levi (ibid, page 19, Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 3, posukim 1-3):

…These are the descendants of Aaron and Moshe, on the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron: the firstborn, Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar and Ithamar. These are the sons of Aaron, the anointed Kohanim, whom he inaugurated to minister.

Torah now states (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 3, posuk 4 as rendered to English in the Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah with Rashi’s Commentary”):

“Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they offered an alien fire before Hashem in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children; but Elazar and Ithamar ministered in the presence of Aaron, their father.”

And, so Rabbi Goldin asks a question on the above posukim (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 3, posukim 1-4) which is not commonly touched on and provides citings and commentaries (ibid, pages 24-26):

Why does the Torah enumerate the children of Aaron, yet remain silent concerning Moshe’s descendants?

Rashi approaches the textual omission midrashically by citing a well-known Talmudic explanation: “Anyone who teaches the son of his friend Torah is considered by the text to have fathered him.”

While the Talmudic message is beautiful, underscoring the elemental relationship between student and teacher, significant questions remain. Moshe, after all, taught the entire nation Torah. Why, then, does the Torah list him as the “father” only of Aaron’s children? Based on the Talmudic formula, Moshe should be considered the “father” of all of B’nei Yisrael. Even more troubling: Didn’t Moshe teach his own children, Gershom and Eliezer? Why, then, are they completely omitted from the text?

Moshe’s personal decision to teach his nephews in further depth… gives rise to their unique parent-child relationship. (Rabbi Goldin citing Gur Aryeh on Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 3, posuk 1)

The most troubling question… remains, a question that neither the Talmud nor… commentary seem[s] to address.

What of Moshe’s children? If we accept the Talmudic approach that the Torah references the actual children of Aaron, why are Moshe’s children are conspicuously absent?

After references at the time of each of their births and another mention when they are reunited with their father in the Wilderness of Sinai, Moshe’s children do not openly appear again in the Torah text.

The Midrash does suggest that the older brother, Gershom, anonymously resurfaces for a brief moment as “the lad” who rushes to protect Moshe’s honor later in Sefer Bamidbar. Brief references to Moshe’s progeny are also found in Divrei Hayamim, where we learn that Shevuel, the son of Gershom, is appointed as the chief officer over the treasury (Rabbi Goldin citing Divrei Hayamim I 26:24), and that Eliezer’s descendants are very numerous (Rabbi Goldin citing Divrei Hayamim I 23:15-17).

Aside from these cryptic citations, however, Moshe’s children, Gershom and Eliezer, disappear into the mists of history.

Through the omission of Gershom and Eliezer from the text, the Torah underscores a harsh reality.

In stark contrast to the descendants of Aaron (the Kohanim, whose identity is known to this day), Moshe’s children simply disappear. They play no major role… and are, therefore, deliberately omitted from the Torah text.

…The mysteries surrounding Moshe’s descendants raise cautionary concerns that… reverberate within our own lives.

Can it be that for all of his overwhelming success, Moshe somehow fails with his own progeny? Rabbinic sources reflect a willingness to consider this disquieting prospect? The Midrash describes Moshe as disturbed by his children’s inability to rise to leadership. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sifrei, Devarim 305)

Can it be that Gershon and Eliezer recede from from public notice not in spite of, but specifically because of Moshe’s greatness? How often do children of great leaders struggle in the shadow of their parents’ achievements? How many fail to achieve because the bar for success is automatically set to high? How many fall below the radar because their parents are too busy to notice?

The Midrash comments that, under the burdens of leadership, Moshe regularly fails to return to his home. He journeys first from Sinai and later from the Mishkan, directly to the nation, without stopping to care for his personal needs. (Rabbi Goldin citing Mechilta on Sefer Shemot, Perek 19, posuk 14) The Chatam Sofer, based on a passage in Sefer Shemot (Rabbi Goldin citing Chatam Sofer regarding Sefer Shemot, Perek 33, posuk 7), goes so far as to maintain that Moshe teaches only those who come to him of their own volition. Tragically, the Chatam Sofer continues, Moshe’s own children never come. (Rabbi Goldin citing a quote in Nachshoni, Hagot B’Parshiot HaTorah, Vol. 2, page 563)

This author wonders, could there be some connection between Miriam’s criticism of Moshe, which resulted in her contracting tzaraas (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 12, posuk 10 – Parshat Beha’aloscha) and what the Midrash comments above: “He journeys first from Sinai and later from the Mishkan, directly to the nation, without stopping to care for his personal needs”?

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, page 127):

While we can wonder about these issues, we cannot assume. We have no way of truly knowing whether… [these] troubling suggestions are accurate or whether we are simply reading too much into the absence of information concerning Moshe’s progeny.

The Torah’s silence, however, challenges us with possibilities. At the very least, the disappearance of Moshe’s descendants from the historical record reminds us to be vigilant. There are no guarantees in the area of childrearing, even if you are a Moshe.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.