The Torah in Parashat Shemot introduces the story of Moshe’s birth by telling of his parents’ marriage: “A Levite man went ahead and married Levi’s daughter” (2:1). A number of commentators raised the question as to the Torah’s intent in telling us that this man – later identified as Amram – “went ahead” (“va-yeilekh”). Ibn Ezra explains this term to mean that Yokheved – Moshe’s mother – lived in a different city than Amram, and thus Amram needed to “go” to a different town to marry her. However, as the Ramban noted, it seems difficult to understand why the Torah found it necessary to inform us of this point.
The Ramban therefore suggests a different explanation, postulating that the word “va-yeilekh” and other forms of the verb h.l.kh. (“go”) can sometimes be used in reference to a “mizdareiz” – literally, somebody who acts with zeal and passion. It is used in reference to Amram’s marriage to Yokheved, the Ramban explains, because Amram made the decision to marry in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male Israelite infants.
The Ramban cites several other examples of this usage of the verb h.l.kh. in Tanakh, and these examples help clarify his intent. He first notes the Torah’s brief account of Reuven sleeping with his stepmother, Bilha: “Reuven went ahead [va-yeilekh] and slept with Bilha…” (Bereishit 35:22). The Ramban’s second example is Yehuda’s suggestion to his brothers that they sell Yosef as a slave: “Let us go ahead [lekhu] and sell him to the Ishmaelites…” (Bereishit 37:27). He also cites a verse from the opening chapter of Sefer Hoshea (1:3), which tells of Hoshea’s marriage to a harlot in fulfillment of God’s unusual command: “He went ahead [va-yeilekh] and wed Gomer, the daughter of Divlayim.” The common denominator between these verses is that they describe a bold and unusual action. In two instances – the stories of Reuven and Yehuda – the action was sinful, whereas in the third, it was explicitly commanded by God. Nevertheless, these are all extraordinary and startling incidents. It would seem, then, that when the Ramban speaks of the verb h.l.kh. as expressing the quality of “mizdareiz,” he refers to the emotion and passion that drives somebody to act in an unconventional manner. This could be passionate hatred, as in the case of the sale of Yosef, or the passionate devotion to the divine word, as in the case of Hoshea. Regardless of the kind of emotion being described, the verb h.l.kh. is used in reference to one who performs an unusual and audacious act that could only result from strong feelings of one sort or another.
And thus the Ramban suggested that here, too, in regard to Amram’s marriage to Yokheved, the Torah uses the term “va-yeilekh” to emphasize that this was a bold and striking move on Amram’s part. After Pharaoh decreed death upon all newborn males, the people were discouraged and hesitant to marry. Indeed, the Gemara in Masekhet Sota (12a) famously relates that Amram actually divorced Yokheved in response to Pharaoh’s decree, and then remarried her upon being reprimanded by his daughter, Miriam. The people were disheartened and dispirited, and it took a great deal of strength and fortitude on Amram’s part to marry in defiance of the cruel edict. For this reason, according to the Ramban, the Torah does not simply state that Amram married, but that he “went ahead,” with courage and conviction, to defy Pharaoh and continue building his family and building Am Yisrael despite the hardships that they faced.