(14) The following are the heads of their respective clans. The sons of Reuben, Israel’s first-born: Enoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi; those are the families of Reuben.
(15) The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Saul the son of a Canaanite woman; those are the families of Simeon.
(16) These are the names of Levi’s sons by their lineage: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari; and the span of Levi’s life was 137 years.
(17) The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their families.
(18) The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel; and the span of Kohath’s life was 133 years.
(19) The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by their lineage.
(20) 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.
(21) The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri.
(22) The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri.
(23) Aaron took to wife Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
(24) The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph. Those are the families of the Korahites.
(25) And Aaron’s son Eleazar took to wife one of Putiel’s daughters, and she bore him Phinehas. Those are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their families.
(26) It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.”
(27) It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians; these are the same Moses and Aaron.
(14) The following are the heads of their respective clans: The narrative is suddenly interrupted by the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. It would seem that the proper place for elaborating the pedigree of the Levites is not here, but at the very beginning of this book of Exodus (2:1 ff.). But the treatment there was only a highly generalized account devoid of any mention of names at all: “A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son.” This was meant to be symbolic of suppression of all individual identity, which is typical of an enslaved people. Here, however, all names are liberally supplied, indicating that self-awareness is increasing as the process of the Exodus begins.
(14-15) The sons of Reuben, Israel’s first-born … The sons of Simeon: The story line begins with Reuben and Simon, since the nation begins with them, and the Levites are important not in isolation, but as a part of the nation as whole. Beyond that, however, only the family of Moses and Aaron is covered in detail.
(16-19) These are the names of Levi’s sons by their lineage: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari … The sons of Gershon … The sons of Kohath … The sons of Merari: The Levite family tree is traced in detail, because of the importance it will have in the future. In the encampment of the Jews in the wilderness, the Levites will be divided into the same three sub-clans as they are here, and the status of the three Levite clans will be comparable to that of the individual tribes of Israel.
And the span of Levi’s life was 137 years … And the span of Kohath’s life was 133 years … And the span of Amram’s life was 137 years: In the case of Moses’ immediate ancestors the total lifespan of each is also indicated. The Midrash posits that the Torah mentions the total years of Levi’s life because the time of his death corresponds to the moment that the enslavement of the Jews began (that did not occur until all the sons of Jacob had died, and it is assumed that Levi was the last of them).
But more directly, we can see the enumeration of Moses’ ancestors’ lifespans as underscoring Moses’ preeminence, in that he is included, as it were, among the “pillars of humanity.” Early in the book of Genesis the Torah enumerates the lifespans of all the generations from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, and, later, the twelve sons of Jacob. That the same is done here for Moses shows that Moses’ importance is no less than that of all of them.
(20) Amram took to wife his father’s sister Jochebed, and she bore him Aaron and Moses: As noted earlier, no mention is made of Moses’ parents’ names in the story of his birth at the beginning of the book of Exodus. But Jewish individual identity is from this point on steadily increasing.
Took to wife his father’s sister: Before the giving of the Torah there was no prohibition against marrying one’s father’s sister.
(21) The sons of Izhar: Korah … The sons of Korah … Those are the families of the Korahites: This is Korah who led the rebellion against Moses during the wilderness era (Num. 16). Korah’s mention here demonstrates the special, elevated status that he enjoyed from very early on.
(22) The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri: They too will play an important role in the future (see Lev. 10:4).
(23) Aaron took to wife Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon: Amminadab and his son Nahshon were princes of the tribe of Judah. This marriage thus further influenced the special relationship of that tribe to the Kohanim (the Priestly clan).
And she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar: Aaron’s four sons are the future Kohanim.
(25) And Aaron’s son Eleazar took to wife one of Putiel’s daughters, and she bore him Phinehas: Phinehas was born before Aaron and his sons became Priests. This fact will prove essential for understanding the story of Phinehas as told in the book of Numbers (ch. 25).
One of Putiel’s daughters: The name “Putiel” bears a certain resemblance to the name of the Egyptian priest Poti-phera (Gen. 41:45). The Midrash suggests that Putiel was an Egyptian who belonged to the priestly class. We can see this as demonstrating the close ties that existed between the Egyptian and Jewish elites (and Moses’ family in particular), as already noted above.
(25-26) Those are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites by their families. It is the same Aaron and Moses …: This genealogy, which establishes Moses’ place within the Jewish nation, shows that his connection with the people is now steadily growing stronger. So long as Moses fails to realize his place within the Jewish nation, and the lineage of its tribes and clans, he cannot lead the people out of Egypt. Therefore, the purpose of enumerating Moses’ genealogy and that of his family here is not so much to inform us of those facts themselves, as to stress that Moses himself is now aware of them.
(26) It is the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring forth the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop”: During the Egyptian bondage, and even when God was already giving instructions about the upcoming Exodus, Aaron was the leader of the Jewish community. In recognition of that, in this verse Aaron is mentioned before Moses.
(27) It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to free the Israelites from the Egyptians; these are the same Moses and Aaron: But as soon as the action begins, Moses becomes the leader (and is therefore now mentioned before Aaron).