Commentary Magazine


Cedars of Lebanon: Jochebed Mourns for Moses

Cecil Roth, the historian, translates for this department a hymn from the Aramaic, commenting: “The traditional Jewish feast of Simhat Torah (the Rejoicing of the Law), which is celebrated on the last of the nine days of Succoth [this year October 25], is generally regarded as an occasion for almost unmitigated carnivalesque hilarity. Originally, however, there was combined with this a note of sadness, for the last chapter of the Pentateuch, which is read on this occasion, tells the story of the death of Moses. In some Jewish communities in antiquity, specially designated ‘mourners’ recited commemorative hymns in Moses’ honor, and most rites contain elegies, some very moving, for recital on this occasion. This Aramaic hymn was probably composed in the early Middle Ages in south Italy or the Byzantine Empire; it is still recited in the Roman rite. Jochébed, the mother of Moses, is here depicted as having survived him, and going in search of him after his death.” Jochébed is mentioned in Exodus (6:20) as the wife of Amram and the mother of Miriam, Aaron, and Moses; earlier in Exodus (2:1), she is spoken of as a daughter of Levi, but her name is not given. In the Talmud, Jochébed (the name has been thought to be of Egyptian origin) is identified by the rabbis as Shiphrah, one of the midwives ordered by Pharoah to kill all newborn male Hebrew children; but Shiphrah did not obey, and was therefore rewarded by God with a house of the priesthood, through Aaron, and a house of royalty, through Moses.—Ed.

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Jochebed went entreating of Egypt:
   “Egypt! Egypt! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
     “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
     Since the day when he smote the first-born in my land.”

Jochébed went entreating Nile River:
“River! River! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
       “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
       Since the day when he changed all my waters to blood.”

Jochébed went entreating the Red Sea:
“Red Sea! Red Sea! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
       “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
       Since the day when he led Twelve Tribes through my midst.”

Jochébed went entreating the Desert:
“Desert! Desert! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
    “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
    Since the day when the Manna was spread over me.”

Jochébed went entreating the granite:
“Granite! Granite! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
      “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
      Since the day when he struck on me, twice, with has Rod.”

Jochébed went entreating Mount Sinai.
“Sinai! Sinai! hast thou seen my son Moses?”
      “By thy life, Jochébed, I have not seen him again
      Since the day when he bore down the Tables of Law.”

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