This week’s Torah portion of Shemot reveals a riveting little known subplot of how the marital advice of a five year old, named Miriam, not only saved our tiny fragile nation from possible extinction, due to the evil decree of Pharaoh, but also set the stage for the birth of Moshe Rabbenu.
In Chapter II verses 1 and 2, we read the following:
- And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took (to wife) a daughter of Levi
- And the woman conceived and bore a son;
It seems pretty ordinary – man marries woman and gives birth to a son. But, the Talmud in Tractate Sotah 12a describes a situation that is anything but “ordinary.”
“The man” in this case is Amram, who was in fact the leader of the generation, who (according to the commentator Rashi) was obeyed by everyone. The Gemara says that “Once he saw that the wicked Pharaoh said (i.e. – decreed) “Every son that will be born into the river shall you throw him,” Amram said, “We are laboring for nothing (in attempting to produce children).” Consequently he proceeded to divorce his wife. All (the Jewish men) followed suit and proceeded to divorce their wives.
The Gemara then presents the change that alters the course of history.
Amram’s daughter Miriam said to him: “Father, your decree is harsher than that of Pharaoh – because Pharaoh decreed only against the newborn males. But you have decreed against the males and females. Pharaoh decreed only against life in this world. But you have decreed against life in this world and the world to come.”
She continued to argue that her father’s decree would certainly be respected, due to his righteous status. Amram accepted her argument and proceeded to remarry his wife. Then all the Jewish men followed suit and proceeded to remarry their wives.
Parenthetically, after all the couples remarried, Amram’s wife, Yochevet, demonstrated her righteousness in dramatic fashion. Following her remarriage to Amram, not only did she give birth to our leader Moshe, but she, along with her helper daughter Miriam, saved the lives of countless number of Hebrew babies in their capacity as midwives by defying the decree of Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew sons at the time of birth. (Shemot I, v.16)
In an article entitled “Yochevet”, author Nissan Mindel states that “The great sage Rabbi Judah Hanassi (who gathered and arranged the Oral Law into the six volumes of the Mishnah), when speaking of Yocheved, said: “There was a Jewish woman who was the mother of 600,000 children.” He explained that he meant Yocheved, who gave birth to Moses, who was worth as much as all the people of Israel who came out of Egypt.”
Lesson from Amram’s divorce decree
What lesson may we learn from Amram’s divorce decree and its residual impact on the other couples of his generation who followed Amram’s decree? Besides the obvious halting of the possibility of procreation of male or female children, the bottom line is –
Even the greatest leader of his generation needed sound marital educational advice in order to preserve our nation. Had Amram’s decree continued, it is safe to say that the Hebrew population would have been decimated by Pharaoh.
Fortunately for our peoplehood, a brave little Miriam challenged her father (and mother) to reunite and continue to procreate and populate our nation.
The same applies to our generation. If we become influenced by the lure of externalities in the form of materialism or concerns about population growth, then easily we can find ourselves contemplating divorce or other forms of estrangement.
This is where marriage education comes into play. And often it is the voice of a five year old or child who is bereft of a parent from the consequences of divorce that reminds us that we need to learn how to become the best parents and couples we can be.
The good news about the disintegration of marriage in contemporary society is that it is not a decree from heaven. Rather, it is both preventable and relatively easy to change. The Marriage Education movement, virtually unknown in Israel, works to counteract these alarming, painful and expensive statistics by helping to stabilize marriages and families and prevent divorce.
Because prevention is always less expensive and simpler than a cure, we believe it makes tremendous sense for the State of Israel to invest lesser sums in preventing divorce and the devastation that results from it, rather than investing in pulling single-parent households out of poverty.
Marriage Education programs are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, especially because the infrastructure for Marriage Education already exists in Israel. Many agencies have goals that align with this work and there is a general consensus in society about the importance of happy families.
Additionally, Marriage Education taps into the deepest intentions which couples have for their lives and their families. They are ready and willing to learn how to achieve that. Premarital education is particularly effective when couples are first starting out. Young people are quick learners and at this stage in their relationship, they don’t have years of embedded habits and resentments which need to be counteracted.
The logic of learning effective relationship skills is irrefutable. We send children to school to learn numerous skills and find employment, yet for life’s greatest achievement, living successfully with another person and building a home, there is no training. This lack of preparation can lead many to stumble, resulting in troubled marriages that have a significant negative effect on society.
According to Howard J. Markman, premarital education is very effective at counteracting the dynamics of negative communication and mismanaged conflict, because we can help couples improve their communication and improve their conflict management, thereby improving their satisfaction over time and preventing divorce.
Prof. Howard J. Markman stated that premarital education deals directly with issues of conflict and commitment, as well as helping to protect the positives in relationships that bring people together in the first place. In point of fact, pre-marriage Education counteracts what was cited by couples as the last straw – which included infidelity, domestic violence and loss of that loving feeling.
There is significant positive evidence on the effectiveness of Marriage Education, so the logic of bringing Marriage Education to the forefront of Israeli culture, both as individual units and as citizens is compelling. In addition to reducing divorces and the wear and tear on couples and their children, Marriage Education brings a range of compelling byproducts of increased productivity, happiness and success of our children, as well as for their parents.
We need to take heart from Miriam and recognize that if we are going to survive as a nation we have to have leadership committed to strong marriages and a society that makes our homes as the foundation for bringing the Moshiah and creating a dwelling place for G-d in our midst.
 Howard J. Markman is Professor and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver (Colorado, USA). He is President of PREP, Inc. (Prevention and Relationship Education Program). He served as keynote speakers for both conferences sponsored by Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher (The First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel, May 17, 2011 and the Knesset Seminar for Pre-Marriage Education on November 8, 2017 co-hosted in the Knesset with MK Yehudah Glick).
 Ibid, Howard J. Markman