Sunday, August 28, 2011


I've written a lot on this blog about Moshe Rabbeinu – twenty posts, according to this link – but I must admit that as fascinated as I am with Moshe's leadership, I might admire another Jewish still more. That's Moshe's father, Amram.

Certainly, Moshe's forty years at the helm were an impossible feat; the fact that he stood up to Pharaoh, then held a nation of a few million former slaves together and on-task for so long, is astounding beyond words. But consider that when Moshe needed it, there was always a miracle available for him. Need food? Bread from the sky. Need water? Right here, from this stone. Enemies pursuing you? Not a problem - clouds, outstretched hands, whatever it takes.

On the other hand, Amram led with nothing of the sort supporting him. Sotah 12a tells us עמרם גדול הדור היה, that Amam was the leader of his generation. How do you lead a nation of slaves, while they are still enslaved to the most powerful empire around? What does leadership even mean in such circumstances – do you reassure them that everything is going to be okay? Do you find some way to manage the needs of the population? Do you petition the merciless throne for relief?

One thing's certain, based on the scriptural and midrashic record: Amram had no miracles, no magic stick, no clouds of glory, no Mount Sinai revelation. All he had, to inspire and judge and feed and clothe and guide, was his faith and wit and personality.

Moshe will always be a role model for anyone, and certainly for a leader, but it seems to me that for today's Jewish leader the more accurate model is Amram. No Divine messages, no sound and light show, just faith in a tradition, courage to burn and hope for tomorrow.

On a separate note, Amram and his wife Yocheved must have been some parents. Yocheved, daughter of Levi and holdover from the age of Matriarchs and Patriarchs, and Amram, listed in Shabbos 55b as one of a few people who never sinned. The two of them produced Miriam, Aharon and Moshe… Wow.

Like his famous son, Amram didn't live to see the full fruit of his labors. As calculated by Rashba (Bava Basra 121b), he died at least 56 years before Moshe came back to redeem the Jews. What a terrible thing, to manage all of those struggles, to conceive the redeemer, but not to see the end.

What an awe-inspiring human being he must have been; I wish we knew more about him.


  1. And according to the midrashim about him separating from Yokheved, he was willing to change his mind when confronted with a compelling counterargument -- and raised his children to give him critique when he needed it!

  2. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    And I second Steg's comment. Amram's willingness to concede that he is wrong about separating from Yocheved is another sign of his greatness. Moreover, unlike Moshe, who - when confronted with a logical counterargument (e.g. Bnot Tzlafchad) - has to consult with Hashem, Amram is able to consider the issue on his own and act accordingly.

  3. Steg, Mrs. S-
    Thanks! There certainly is a lot to say about that story - in terms of Amram/Yocheved's initial decision, and in terms of Miriam's persona, and in terms of their parental humility.

  4. If the matter of Bnos Tzlafchad needed no clarification from HaShem, Moshe Rabbeinu would not have requested it. Amram did not (apparently) have this consultation option, so he had to decide by himself as best he could.

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  7. Amram was one of the four people who never sinned, and thus only died because such is the nature of humanity since Chavah ate the fruit. (Shabbos 55b)

    Chazal's portrayal of Amram makes him very difficult for me to relate to as a role model, as I'm nowhere near that.

  8. Micha-
    Yes, there's definitely a point in that. But is Moshe any easier?

  9. With Moshe, it feels like the difference is more of degree. Extreme degree, but still degree. I have a temper problem, he loses his patience too. His struggles are loftier than mine -- and for that matter than his father's -- but he, like I, doesn't win every battle.

    Amram did. There is no "a tzadiq falls 7 times and gets up". That lack of failed struggle feels to me more like a difference in kind.