Parashat Shemot


First Portion

We start the book of Shemot many years later from when we concluded in the book of Bereshit. In fact, at this juncture, all 70 souls that came down to Egypt with our father, Yaacov, have passed on. As long as they were alive, a protected spiritual level was maintained.

• The book begins by reciting the 12 sons of Yaacov, the basis of the structure of our people.

• The Jews were multiplying six-fold. Sources pinpoint they were eating tiny fish and that’s what enabled them to be more fertile. It is suggested today to eat sardines if one has fertility problems.

• A new king arose; some say it was the same king. Regardless, our sages emphasize one cannot trust the non-Jew. All the good and dedication Joseph did for Pharaoh and the Egyptians were disregarded, and the hatred towards our ancestors intensified; a valuable lesson to be learned.

• The Egyptians forced the Jews into slavery with hard labor.

• Pharaoh foresaw in his horoscope that in this time period, a Jew would be born who would rise up and destroy him. He therefore ordered all Jewish newborn males to be put to death

Second Portion

• Amram, from the tribe of Levi, remarried his ex-wife Yocheved, heeding the advice of their daughter Miriam. They bore a son, Moshe. Amram had initially divorced Yocheved because of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the Jewish boys. We learn a lesson from the sages; no matter how cruel the world can be, one should not refrain from having children.

• Moshe’s parents hid him in a basket and let it float in the Nile.

• Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, discovers the child and adopts the Jewish baby. Batya needs assistance, and unknowingly, “drafts” the boy’s biological mother and sister.

• Pharaoh wanted to kill all Jewish baby boys because he was concerned about the predictions of the horoscope. Ironically, the person who was the threat to his kingdom, the one who he’s most afraid of, is unknowingly being raised in his own palace. Who says G-d doesn’t have a sense of humor?!

• The trait of kindness was evident in Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved the little Jewish infant. She called him Moshe; it describes the act in which she stretched out her arm to grab the basket with the infant inside.

Third Portion

“Moshe went out to his brethren and observed their suffering”(Shemot2:11) We see how his personality is developing and how his leadership skills, the intolerance to injustice for instance, is sprouting and maturing. Although other traits are later described, all stem from his fierce longing for justice. Throughout his trials and travails, the spiritual light is being developed through these experiences.

Nachshoni points out a passage from the RAMBAM’S Moreh Nevuchim which is quite fascinating.

“Prophecy begins when a man is divinely guided in the performance of a major good deed, such as delivering a large group of people from attack, saving a highly important person or influencing many persons and guiding them towards righteousness. When an individual is inspired in this way and finds within himself the impetus to act, we say that he has been “cloaked in” and “invested with” a Divine spirit. This such inspiration never departed from Moshe, even once he reached manhood. Through it, he was aroused to kill the Egyptian and to deter the wrongdoer in the quarrel of the two Jews. So strong was it in him, that even after he fled to Midyan, frightened stranger that he was, he could not bare injustice.

Rambam emphasizes that not everyone that has this capacity is a prophet. Rather, whoever G-d chooses has the final say. However, if one is chosen, that alone is the first of the eleven levels of prophecy.

Forth Portion

Moshe worked for his father-in-law as a shepherd. One day, a little calf runs away from Moshe’s flock. After trying to catch it, Moshe finds the calf drinking water. He then realizes that the calf was thirsty and was looking for the pond. Reasoning that the calf was tired after the chase, he then carried it over his shoulder back to the herd. G-d Said that this is the type of leader He wants to lead the chosen people.

• Much has been written about the burning bush. One “feel good” lesson I read in Or Gadalyahu and actually many commentaries also talk about it. The bush which was on fire but never burnt represents the Israelites; they can be punished and tortured, however they will never be destroyed.

Fifth Portion

• Moshe at first refused to take the position because he thought he was unqualified, but G-d refused to take no for an answer. G-d then proceeded to give him instructions which were to notify the elders of Israel that they will leave the perils of slavery and go to the Promised Land. he was then commanded to go to Pharaoh and tell him to “Let my people go”.

• Moshe was concerned, “Perhaps they might not believe me.” To solve this, G-d instructed Moshe to perform three signs to show his legitimacy, one of which was to take his staff and throw it to the ground and it will turn into a snake. This was a sign to show that G-d has the power to take something that has no life and make it into a living being.

• Moshe was concerned that his older brother might be jealous of his important position, but G-d assured him Aaron would be very happy for Moshe.

Sixth Portion

On the way to Egypt, G-d attempts to kill Moshe for not performing the commandment of Brit Milah on his son. His wife, Tziporah, immediately grabs a sharp stone and cuts her baby’s foreskin. We learn a lesson; never delay performing commandments. In general, better to do something today than procrastinate and do it tomorrow.

• Moshe meets his brother Aaron and tells him the plan of action. They both then meet the elders and reveal the miracles that G-d had instructed him. After seeing them, the people believed him.

Seventh Portion

Pharaoh said, “Who is your G-d that I should listen to him?” responding to Moshe and Aaron’s request.

• Pharaoh imposes tougher working and living conditions on the Israelites because of the “incitement” with Moshe and Aaron.

Credit to: Rabbi Avi Matmon