When Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel God’s people, and that Adonai had brought Israel out of Egypt, then Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, and her two sons; and the name of one was Gershom…and the name of the other was Eliezer…And Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God… (Exodus 18:14, abbreviated)
In this parasha (chapter) the Israelites will stand at the foot of Mt Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments. But it begins with a brief insight into the private life of Moses. His wife and sons had been staying with his father-in-law while Moses was in Egypt, and now they are coming to join him with the Israelites. We will hear about Moses’ wife mentioned only once more in Torah, in a sentence is Number 12:1, and not by name. But this paragraph is the last mention of Moses’ sons in the Torah!
Centuries later, the Rabbis of the Talmud wrote that Moses asked God to appoint one of Moses’ sons to succeed him as leader of the Israelites, but God did not feel either to be worthy and selected Joshua instead. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was appointed as High Priest and Aaron’s sons did succeed their father, but this was not the case with Moses. (Rabbinic understanding is that Moses’ direct descendants will serve in the Temple as Levites.) In a later chapter in Torah, Numbers 3:1, we will read, “These are the descendants of Moses and Aaron…” but only Aaron’s sons will be listed.
However, Moses’ influence was felt by his nephews, as were all of the children from that generation to this one. We can connect this message to the Ten Commandments, read this week, specifically the Fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” The Midrash (stories by the Rabbis to help us understand deeper messages of Torah) teaches us that the relationship of a teacher to his/her pupils is just as important as that between a parent and child. Though Moses’ sons did not succeed him in leadership, he was succeeded by his students, the generation that survived the wilderness and entered the land, led by his most noteworthy student, Joshua.
To this day, Moses is called Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses, our teacher, our greatest teacher.