The Difference between the grandson of Moses and the grandson of Aaron
By Avi Lazerson
The Bible, meaning the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings that are included in the Holy books, in Hebrew called “TaNach”, can sometimes be stranger than fiction. The point in question is the story of Micha that is brought at the end of the Book of Judges (Hebrew: Shoftim) Chapters 17 and 18.
The Story of Micha begins with him stealing money from his mother and then admitting it, returning it and his mother then pronouncing that she had dedicated this money for holy use. She then gave a portion of this money to make an idol believing that this was a fulfillment of her vow.
Micha then begins to use his sons as priests for this idol but soon comes along a Levi who is later identified as Yehonatan the son of Gershon the son of Menashe (18:30) whom Micha sees is a person of capabilities and stature. He urges him to work for him as the priest of this idol. Remember that the priestly class, those who served in the Temple and before that (during the time of Micha) in the Sanctuary at Shilo could only be the descendents on the male side from Aaron the High Priest.
The story unfolds during the time that the young Jewish nation had just begun conquering the land of Canaan. The land was to be divided amongst the eleven tribes. The twelfth tribe, the tribe of Levi, from which both Moses and Aaron are members, did not inherit any land. In the place of land the Levis are to become the teachers and live in the cities and the priests (called today Cohens) were to serve in the Temple.
Now all of the great rabbis who wrote commentaries on the Book of Judges explain that Yehonatan the son of Gershon the son of Menashe is really the grandson of Moses. The name given, Menashe, is not the correct name, rather a Hebrew letter, “nun” was added to the name of Moses (Hebrew: Moshe) and the scribes wrote the name with the letter “nun” suspended between the first letter, “mem,” and the second letter, “shin” to allude to us that this name Menashe is really Moses. This was done, the rabbis explain, to conceal the fact that Moses’ grandson went in a direction against the Torah and teachings of his grandfather. When Micha saw this revered and distinguished grandson of Moses, a man of great understanding and stature, he approached him with an offer he could not refuse; he offered him the position of high priest to an idol! But of all things considered, this grandson should have refused such a ludicrous offer, an idol? That is strictly forbidden by the Torah. The priesthood was NOT given to Moses nor to his sons rather to Aaron and his sons!
The question which is now asked is how is it that the greatest of prophets, the man who spoke to G-d face to face, a man about whom all of Israel relates to as the man who took them out of Egypt, gave them the Torah at Mount Sinai, and led them in the desert for forty years, how is it that this great man had a grandson who became a priest for idolatry? This is the question of this story in the Book of Judges.
Let us begin to explain:
Moses’ brother Aaron‘s sons, to whom G-d gave the priesthood to Aaron and his sons only, are not found any one who sank so low as to serve idolatry. Now remember this is only two generations removed from the generation that came out of Egypt, who witnessed the great wonders and signs in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the killing of the first born, then the travels and trials in the desert and the giving of the Torah. What happened to Moses’ grandson that all of what happened two generations previously did not make any impact on him? What went wrong?
There are several views on this question that basically come back to the same point. One view is that Moses was really too high and lofty an individual. He charged with the leadership of the Jews, with giving over the laws and forming a nation from a group of individuals. This all was very consuming on his time therefore he did not connect in a personal manner with his children or grandchildren. We see that he married Tzipora, the daughter of a Midianite priest, and had two children. When G-d sent him to take the Jews out of Egypt, Moses had not even circumcised them! It was his wife Tziporah who performed the circumcision. Then half way to Egypt with his wife and children, Moses stopped and sent his wife and children back to the father-in-law’s house while he alone continued on the journey to Egypt to take the Jews out of slavery. It was not until the Jews were already out of Egypt having witnessed signs and wonders both in Egypt, on the Red Sea and had received the Torah at Mount Sinai that Yetro, Moses’ father-in-law came to Moses to bring him his wife and children. Moses’ children had basically missed out on the ‘Egyptian experience’ that all the other Jews had lived through.
The second factor was Moses’ wife Tzipora. She was not of Jewish stock so it seems that while Moses was busy with the Jews and could not get involved with his sons’ educations, Zipporah efforts in this direction did not make much impact on them.
Basically, both of these views seem to say the same thing. No matter how important is the work of the father; he must put time into his children’s education. A mother needs to be a back-up for the father. She must also contribute her share.
As mentioned by the sons of Aaron, we do not find any becoming transgressors. Aaron married a Jewish women from a very respectable home. He grooms his children into the work of the priesthood. In the long run, it seems that he was more successful with his offspring than his brother Moses was.
What we learn from this is that if great people can have off springs whose actions are not proper, then we, who have no greatness about us, for certain must be careful that we educate our children in their Jewish heritage otherwise they will go off into the world and G-d forbid lose themselves.
from the June 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine