Va-eira: A Path to Follow

Amram took to wife his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses; and the span of Amram’s life was 137 years. The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzapha, and Sithri. Aaron took to wife Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadav and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. the sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph. Those are the families of the Korahites. And Aaron’s son Eleazar took to wife one of Putiel’s daughters, and she bore him Phinehas. Those are the heads of the ancestral houses of the Levites by their families.
–Exodus/Shemot 6:20-25, JPS/Stern (TWC)**

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (TWC)** (commentary for this portion from Rachel Havrelock) says: “Moses’ mother is the first person recorded in the Bible with a name containing elements of the tetragrammaton…for her name means “Yo/Yah is glorified” (the first part of the name is a shortened form of [YHVH]).”*

The Talmud, as well as commentary in later documents, includes remarks on the heh added to change the name ‘Abram’ to ‘Abraham’ and ‘Sarai’ to ‘Sarah.’ It is also noted that ‘Sarai’ originally contained a yud from God’s name:

As regards the significance of [the name change from Sarai to Sarah]; Genesis/Breishit 17]….The midrash relates that the letter yud that was taken from Sarai’s name flew up before God. It complained: “Master of all the worlds! because I am the smallest of all the letters, You removed me from the righteous woman’s name?” God replied: “Before, you were in a woman’s name, and at the end of her name, now I put you in a man’s name, and at the beginning of the name [Num. 13:16]: ‘but Moses changed the name of Hosea [hoshe’a] son of Nun to Joshua [yehoshua]’” (Gen. Rabbah 47:1). According to another tradition, half of the letter yud [with the numerical value of ten] that God took from Sarai was given back to Sarah, and the other half was given to Abraham [each received the letter heh = 5 + 5] (JT Sanhedrin 2:6, 20[c]).
— from “Sarah: Midrash and Aggadah,” by Tamar Kadari, at Jewish Women’s Archive

See also Lekh Lekha, which includes a link to a (unique, I think) midrash on the heh in Hagar’s name.

The 15th-16th Century Italian commentator Sforno notes that the name “Judah” (or “Yehudah”), given in Genesis/Breishit 29:35, contains the “heh” of God’s name, as well as the verb “hodah,” to thank or sing praise.

Also, it may be worth noting in this context that the name “Joseph” (or “Yosef”) begins with the same letters as “Jochebed” (or “Yocheved”), although it is not clear that an “element of” God’s name was specifically intended.

HOWEVER — the idea that Jochebed’s name is meant to signify “God’s glory” is fascinating, given the theme, throughout the Exodus story, of Pharaoh “making his heart strong” — va-yachbed libo (as in 9:34) — and/or God “making Pharaoh’s heart strong” — hichbadti et-libo (10:1) — while the point of the entire Exodus is to illustrate God’s glory (kavod).

In addition, the idea (included in TWC, re: 6:23) that Elisheba’s name is associated with God and “seven” is also fascinating, given the prominence of sevens in the Exodus story. See, e.g., “Va-eira: Something to Notice.” See also Cassuto on Exodus, regarding the literary/symbolic embedding of numbers throughout the Torah.

*ADDENDUM: I noticed today (1/9/2010) that Etz Hayim — the Conservative movement’s 2002 commentary, which uses the JPS translation and adapts JPS commentary — includes a similar (although factually correct) note on this verse saying that Jochebed’s name is the first in the bible to “clearly” include “yo,” which is then identified as a shortened form of “Yah.” TWC, probably accidentally, makes a broader (and so glaringly erroneous) — claim.

** see Source Materials for detailed info/citation.

————————————————————–The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Published by


Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

One thought on “Va-eira: A Path to Follow”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s