Elisheba (or Elisheva) appears just once in the Torah, where we read:

And Aaron took to himself for a wife, Elisheba, the daughter of Amminadab, the sister of Nachshon, and she bore him Nadab and Abihu, Elazar and Ithamar.1

The sages count the prominent and holy men in her family:2

  • She was married to Aaron, the high High Priest, and was thus the mother of all kohanim (priests) from Biblical times until today.
  • Her brother-in-law was Moses, the greatest prophet to ever live.
  • Her father was Aminadav, whose lineage traces back to Peretz, son of Judah.3
  • Her brother was Nachshon, the prince of the tribe of Judah, who bravely jumped into the churning waters, catalyzing the miraculous parting of the sea.
  • Her sons were Nadab and Abihu, who died by Divine fire during the inauguration of the Tabernacle, as well as Elazar the High Priest, and Itamar.
  • By extension, we also learn that her grandson was Pinchas the Zealot (son of Elazar), whom G‑d rewarded with priesthood and the “covenant of peace.”

The sages recognized the uniqueness of her brother being mentioned in the context of her marriage, and used it to learn an important lesson in identifying a suitable spouse. Aaron took note of Nachshon’s good qualities and factored them in when determining whether to pursue a relationship with Elisheva. “Most sons tend to emulate the brothers of their mother,”4 they observed, and Elisheva’s sons, each one holy and righteous, certainly reflected well on their Uncle Nachshon.

But who was she?

A Brave Midwife

Our first clue is the Talmudic teaching which identifies Elisheva and her mother-in-law Yocheved as the “Hebrew midwives” who bravely stood up to Pharaoh’s draconic order to murder all baby boys born to the Hebrews.5

Her Joy Was Marred by Tragedy

She was a woman of supreme faith, despite the suffering she endured.

At the long-awaited day of inauguration of the Tabernacle, the sages paint a vivid picture of the joy she felt, describing how she kvelled with pride, watching her husband and four sons take up the mantle of priesthood, as her brother—representing the royal tribe of Judah—brought the first of the princely gifts.”6

Then her two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, entered the Holy of Holies and “offered a strange fire before G‑d, which He had not commanded”—the result being that “a fire went out from G‑d and consumed them, and they died before G‑d.”7

Scripture tells us Vayidom Aharon, “and Aaron was silent.”8 And Elisheva? “Her joy turned to mourning and [her face turned ashen] like a pillar of smoke.”9 One can only imagine that this was perhaps even more painful for Elisheva, yet she maintained her faith.

Of Reincarnation and Perfection

The kabbalists10 tell us her soul was reincarnated as Kimchit, the righteous woman whose modesty and piety were the reason she merited that seven of her sons became High Priests.11

She was also reincarnated as Batsheva, wife of her great-nephew King David, who was actually an incarnation of Aaron. Both names end with sheva, which means seven, a reference to the seven Divine attributes (middot).12

But there is a difference. Elisheva was married to Aaron, the embodiment of the first attribute—chessed, kindness—which is associated with the Divine name E-l (the first part of her name). Kindness is essentially good and pure, which is why their union was perfect from the start.

Batsheva, however, married King David who is associated with the second attribute, gevurah, translated as might or severity. Gevurah comes from G‑d and has a role to play, but it must first be “sweetened.” As we know, David and Batsheva suffered Divine punishment for their marriage. The idea was noble, but the timing was not right.13

Mother of Royalty

Noting that most of the Torah’s genealogy follows the male line, the Rebbe points out that Elisheva, her mother-in-law (Yocheved), and her daughter-in-law (the daughter of Putiel, who married Elazar and bore Pinchas) are unique in that the Torah makes a point of mentioning them. This is because a child’s strengths are a credit to his or her mother, and these three men influenced the development of the Torah. Moses, of course, taught the lion’s share of Torah, Elazar taught the laws regarding non-Jewish vessels, and Pinchas contributed the unique guidelines regarding when zealots may act. How come they were so great? Because they were raised by great women.14

The Torah is sparing in its words about Elisheva, but perhaps that is the point. She was a woman of conviction and faith, whose actions spoke louder than any words.