top of page

Vaeira: A True Leader Feels Along with the People

ואלה שמות בני לוי לתולדותם... ואלה משפחות הלוי לתולדותם.

“These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their lineage.” (Shemos 6:16)

“These are the families of the Levites according to their lineage.” (Ibid. 19)

The Torah lists the children of Reuven and Shimon as well, but only when Levi is mentioned does the Torah add the word l’toldosom - “according to their lineage.” This word appears in both verses, at the beginning and at the end of the listing of Levi’s offspring.

We can learn an important lesson from these verses. All parents try to raise their children properly so that they should grow up to be servants of Hashem. They send their children to the finest schools and Yeshivos, paying lots of money for tuition. However, parents must always remember that the most crucial part of chinuch is parental example. When a child sees his parents act in an upstanding manner, he learns from their ways. On the other hand, when a child is constantly lectured about proper behavior but he sees his parents act contrary to their own teachings, he might feel compelled to behave for the moment, but he will throw off their teachings as soon as he becomes independent. The “do as I say, not as I do” method of parenting is never successful, except to the extent that the children will indeed copy their parents by lecturing their own children about proper behavior while keeping lesser standards for themselves.

When the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, they labored day and night and had not a spare moment to pay attention to their children. The younger generation did not have the opportunity to learn from their parents about proper values and faith. The only tribe that was not enslaved was Levi, and therefore the other tribes would send their children to see how the Levites conduct themselves, so they should learn from them. Due to their bitter enslavement, most of the Jews were unable to be their children’s example. Instead, they urged their children to learn from the tribe of Levi about proper values.

The word l’toldosom - according to their lineage, literally means “to their children.” The Bnei Yisroel pointed to the tribe of Levi to their children, urging them to learn from them how to serve Hashem properly.


ואלה שמות בני לוי וכו'... הוא אהרן ומשה אשר אמר ה' להם הוציאו את בני ישראל.

“And these are the names of the sons of Levi… These are Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said, ‘Take out Bnei Yisroel.’” (Ibid 26)

We know that the tribe of Levi was exempt from slave labor. Why were they singled out for special treatment? Because when Pharaoh ordered the Jewish people to work at Pisom and Ramses, offering them decent pay, the Levites chose to learn Torah rather than to earn a nice wage. Since they did not volunteer in the beginning, they were not forced to work later on.

This explanation is a bit difficult to understand. After all, Pharaoh was no lover of Jews, and if he would have wanted to enslave the tribe of Levi he certainly would have been able to do so, regardless of their working history. When Pharaoh issued his devilish decrees of killing all newborn males and later drowning them in the Nile River, he did not exempt the tribe of Levi. He likewise could have made them work just as hard as their brothers, despite the fact that they did not join the work force initially.

The Yaros D’vash explains this difficulty by stating that this was a calculated move on Pharaoh’s part. Pharaoh knew that a Jewish Redeemer will be born, and he assumed that this Redeemer will come from a distinguished family, most probably from the tribe of Levi. He therefore did not enslave this tribe, so that this future Redeemer should not suffer along with his brethren. Pharaoh understood that in order to be a true leader one must feel the pain of the people. By sparing the tribe of Levi, Pharaoh wanted to prevent this future leader from becoming worthy of leadership.

In actuality, however, Moshe was deeply pained by the suffering of his brethren. Although he was raised as a prince and lacked for nothing, the Torah says, “And Moshe grew up and he went out to his brothers and saw their suffering.” (Shemos 2:11) Rashi explains: “Moshe set his eyes and his heart to be pained because of them.” Moshe intentionally wanted to feel the pain of his brethren, and because of this he was worthy to become their leader.

The Rebbe R’ Aharon of Belz zt”l said: A leader usually seeks out the people’s faults. In his capacity as leader, he criticizes their conduct and rebukes them for their flaws. The Jews in Egypt were far from perfect; they worshipped avodah zara and fell to very low levels of tumah. Still, Moshe did not look at their deficiencies but instead he “saw their suffering.” Instead of finding fault with them he saw their anguish and felt their pain, attributing all their faults to their difficult situation.

Aharon also felt the pain of his brothers. When Moshe returned to Egypt with his wife and two children, Aharon met him at the border. Aharon suggested that Moshe send his family back to Midyan. “We are pained enough by those who are already here,” he said (Rashi 18:2). “Why are you bringing more people to add on those who are suffering?” Aharon was a Levite and as such he was exempt from work. The pain he expresses is not about his own family, but about his brothers from the other Jewish tribes. Since he felt along with them, he was also worthy of leadership.

The Torah lists the members of Levi’s family, the only tribe that was able to serve Hashem in Egypt. Although they were more elevated than their brethren, they had one shortcoming: they did not feel along with their brothers’ pain as strongly as they should have. Moshe and Aharon were exceptions to this, and therefore the verse specifies: “These are Aharon and Moshe to whom Hashem said: ‘Take out Bnei Yisroel.’” Hashem spoke specifically “to them” because they showed themselves to be truly worthy of leadership. This is why they were given the privileged task of redeeming Bnei Yisroel.

May Hashem help us; we Jews have suffered enough. Hashem, our Father, feels along with our pain, as the passuk says (Yeshaya 63:9) “In all their suffering He suffers.” When a Jewish person is in pain, the Divine Presence says, “Woe to My head, woe to My arm!” (Sanhedrin 6:5) May Hashem redeem us from all our suffering, Amen.

Recent Posts

See All

Nitzavim: Setting An Example For Our Children

הנסתרות לה' אלקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת. “The hidden things are [known] to Hashem our G-d, and the revealed things are for us and our children forever to do all that

Balak: From the Greatest Tzaddik to the Simplest Jew

וירא בלק בן צפור את כל אשר עשה ישראל לאמורי ויגר מואב מפני העם כי רב הוא וגו'. “And Balak son of Tzipor saw everything that Israel did to the Emori People, and Moav was fearful of the Nation because t


bottom of page