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by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales


Library » History » Egypt | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Jochebed, the mother of Moses and Aaron and Miriam, surely was one of the greatest Jewish women that ever lived. Think of it: Moses, who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and who received the Torah on Mount Sinai. Aaron, who was the High Priest and the father of all the Kohanim. Miriam, who was a prophetess, in whose merits the children of Israel had water during the forty years wandering in the desert. Was there ever a mother who had three more famous children?

Let us speak of her for a few moments and see how and why she became the greatest mother in Israel.

Jochebed was the daughter of Levi, Jacob's son. She was born at the very moment when Jacob and his entire household, Levi and his wife among them, had just entered the gates of Egypt. That was in the year 2238 after Creation. Jochebed was the youngest member of the seventy souls that made up Jacob's household.

Jochebed was brought up by her father and grandfather. For seventeen years she was together, with her grandfather, for Jacob died seventeen years after his coming to Egypt. Jochebed married her nephew Amram, a grandson of her father.

Her father died when Jochebed was 93 or 94 years old, for Levi was the last of Jacob's twelve sons to die (in the year 2331 or 2332). It was then that the troubled times began for her people. But the real oppression began some thirty years later. It was then that the cruel Pharaoh ordered all newly born baby boys of the children of Israel to be put to death.

"Our father Abraham taught us to help people live, even strangers. He set up inns at the crossroads to provide shelter and food for everybody. We are going to work harder than ever to see that every Jewish child should be saved"
Jochebed was the chief Jewish nurse in Egypt. She was a great lover of Jewish children, and devoted all her time to helping young Jewish mothers and their newly born babies. Her daughter Miriam, then still a little girl, only five years old, was helping her.

Pharaoh sent for Jochebed and Miriam and told them that it was up to them to see to it that his order was carefully carried out. Miriam perked up her nose and waved her finger at the cruel king, who was worse than a beast. Pharaoh would have ordered the little girl killed, but her mother pleaded for her life, saying that she was only a child, and didn't know what she was talking about. After leaving the king's palace, Miriam said: "Mother what are we going to do? You are not going to kill little babies are you?"

"Heaven forbid!" Jochebed replied. "Our father Abraham taught us to help people live, even strangers. He set up inns at the crossroads to provide shelter and food for everybody. We are going to work harder than ever to see that every Jewish child should be saved."

"But Pharaoh will kill us!" Miriam exclaimed.

"We will have to take that chance, even if it costs us our lives," Jochebed said with determination.

From that day on, Jochebed and Miriam worked day and night. They helped young Jewish mothers. They gathered baby clothes and baby food from the richer Jews to give it to the poorer ones. They brought real help and courage to the enslaved and suffering Jewish people. They were real angels of mercy. And G-d was good to them and protected them. They found one excuse after another for Pharaoh, and he did not kill them.

When Pharaoh gave out that cruel decree, Jochebed and her husband Amram, decided to separate. "What is the use of raising a family if the children are to be thrown into the water?" they said. But Miriam said to her father, "What you are doing will hurt our people even more than Pharaoh can hurt us. For Pharaoh wants to destroy our baby boys only. But if all Jewish parents would follow your example and you are after all the greatest and wisest leader of them all, there would soon be no Jewish people left at all, for no one would want to raise a family!"


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Oral Law
G–d orally explained all the 613 Commandments to Moses. These explanations constitute the Oral Law.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Simchat Torah
An extremely joyous one-day autumn festival following the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel it is the eighth day of Sukkot, outside of Israel it is celebrated the next day, the day after Shmini Atzeret. Every Sabbath we read a portion of the Torah. On this holiday we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle.
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Older sister of Moses and Aaron, and a prophetess in her own right.
The final book of the Bible. This book summarizes the events described in the first 23 books of the Bible, from Creation until the destruction of the 1st Temple.
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.