Thursday, December 30, 2004

II-1 Shemot Who Made You Boss?

II-1 Shemot Who Made You Boss? 30 December 2004

Torah: Exodus 1-6:1
Haftorah: Is 27:6-28:13; 29:22-3

Because we are opening a new Book of Moses, we can say the Blessing for First Things:

A Blessing for Beginnings:
Baruch Atta Adonai, Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, shechechianu, vikiamanu, v'higianu kizman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Eternal Lord, King of the Universe, Who has kept me alive, sustained me and brought me to this time.


1. Ex 1:1-17
2. Ex 1:18-2:10
3. Ex 2:11-25
4. Ex 3:1-15
5. Ex. 3:16-4:17
6. Ex 4:18-31
7. Ex 5:1 -6:1

Kolel: A Blessing for the Study of Torah

URJ Table Talk: Blessing for the Study of Torah
explanation of Pirkei Avos verse


Exodus is derived from the Greek of the rabbinic name, Sefer Yitziat Mitzraim (the going out of the Land of Egypt). The Hebrew, Shemot means "names" indicating those migrated to Egypt in the saga of Joseph and Jacob. The Israelites are now oppressed under a Pharaoh who does not know of Joseph. The story of Moses begins.

In Focus:

When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, "Why do you strike your fellow?" He retorted,"Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Moses was frightened, and thought: Then the matter is known! When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses, but Moses fled... He arrived in the land of Midan and sat down by a well."
Genesis 2:13-15

Names trace our heritage, geographical as well as cultural traditions. Moses was the son of Amram and Jochabad (Ex 6:20) from the tribe of Levi (Ex 2:1, Ex 6: 23). According to the decree, Moses is duly put into the river to become crocodile dinner, but saved by the Pharaoh's daughter, who " spied a the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, "This must be a Hebrew child." (Ex 2:5-6)

Raised as a son of the Pharaoh, Moses has the ideal position for becoming a reformer. A prince, he has education and class status, but destroys his chances. Coming upon an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he attacks and kills him, surreptitiously hiding him in the sand. (Ex 2:11-15)

Tired from his flight, Moses sits by a well when seven lovely daughters of the local Midianite priest come up to water their flocks. Women then, as today, suffer sexual harassment. Defending them against the local shepherds, Moses draws their water for herds. He assimilates into Jethro's family, marrying his daughter, Zipporah, naming his son, Gershom, "for he said, 'I have been a stranger in a foreign land.'" (Ex 2:22) Moses has gone from the pinnacle of society to the refugee, the social elite to the country yokel. He has a new identity although his son's name is cryptic, applicable equally to Midian as to Egypt. For both, he is a displaced person without roots.

The rabbis say to make good teshuvah, one not only has to repent of the wrongdoing of the past, but when confronted in a similar situation avoid repeating the mistake. Moses killed a man. It wasn't accidental, but a brutal physical attack. In Midian, he hides from his past, possibly waiting the opportune time to return when the Pharaoh dies.Tending his flock one day, he sees a bush aflame but not consumed by the fire. A voice calls, "Moshe! Moshe!" Instinctively, he responds. When divine revelation is made, Moses hides his face. Why? What does he have to hide? He is in the wilderness, scrubby enough for grazing sheep, but not rich enough to sustain crops. Instead of finding himself alone, he is confronted with his past. Given a divine mission, he evades it, but not citing the real reason. He prevaricates, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them? " (Ex 3:13) He argues, raising doubts until God speaks the language he understands, demonstrating negative qualities of leadership.

"What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: The Lord did not appear to you?" The Lord said to him, "What is that you have in your hand?" And he replied, "A rod." he said, "Cast it on the ground." He cast it on the ground and it became a snake; and Moses recoiled from it." (Ex 4:1-4)

Shemos Rabbah 3 tells a story about a Roman woman who told Rebbe Yossi that her god was greater than his. Rebbe Yossi asked why. She said Moshe ran away from the snake embodying her god. Rabbi Yossi responded that Moshe needed to take a few steps to escape, whereas God fills the universe. The problem wasn't the snake, but the type of power it signified, being as arbitrary and vicious as tyranny.

Snakes strike without provocation. They slither through the grass, ambushing their victims, swallowing them whole. Snakes are identified with primeval evil: they eat little helpless creatures like fuzzy bunnies and constrictors are dangerous animals. Big or little, snakes symbolize danger and death.

With the transformation of the shepherd's rod, Moses was confronted with the past he was trying to conceal. He evaded the snake, he ran from it, sensing the physical threat it embodied; but it also represents the destructive force within Moses who struck the Egyptian out of anger, blind hatred or revenge. It represents the dangerous power of tyranny and arbitrary leadership that oppresses people through fear. Before Moses returns to Egypt or assumes leadership, he must repent and turn in a different direction. In arguing with God at the burning bush, Moses chooses the new path of international diplomacy, of speech. The conversion of Israelites from slaves to free men, from individuals to a nation, from pagan culture ot a new faith is not to be through deceit or cunning coercion as Simeon and Levi imposed on the menfolk of Shechem, but a process of applied education and persuasion. The same sympathy that the Pharoah's daughter had to save Moshe's life, will become the liberating force of his life. Compassion and sympathy must lead a people into freedom, not revenge or retaliation.


I-11 Vayigash Genesis 47: 4-13
the presentation of Jacob to Pharaoh and the settlement of the tribes

I-12 Vayechi Genesis 50: 14-26
burial of Jacob, death of Joseph and settlement of Israelites in Egypt

I-8 Vayishlach Genesis 34:1-30
story of Dinah and the trickery of Levi and Simon of coerced conversion followed by their heinous attack on the men of Shechem

I-5 Sara Genesis 24:10-26 Rebecca at the well
Eliazer testing the bride by her compassion for animals


Dvar Torah by Dovid Green 5758
about Moses and Bush

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline Shemos 2 Jan 2002

Rabbi Jordan D Cohen, Kolel, The Evolving Name of God
My Jewish Learning Kolel

Kolel, 5763 from Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Hiyyah
on the pertinence of God to each generation

Kolel, 5761 Shemot
Qualities of Leadership: tza'ar balei chayim

Dovid Green, Dvar Torah - What's in a Name? 5762 / 3 Jan 02

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah- In Preparation to Save a Nation 5764/ 15 Jan 04

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Shemos- Out of Time 5763
the gradual enslavement of Israel

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah- Shemos What's in a Name? 5762/ 27 Dec 02

Yanki Tauber, Shemot -The Birth of a Leader
based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook - Deep Conversations
an overview of rabbinic literature on Shemot

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights - Shemos 5761
regarding Moses in a basket, explaining the interpretation of Shekhinah watching over Moshe

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Shemos 5757
regarding spiritual states and states of enslavement

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Shemos 5762
on the siignificance of names in respect to the qualities of things they represent

Rav Kook, Shemot Moses Hid His Face


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