valid HTML 4.01


Shemot (Shemot)

Exodus 1:1 to 6:1, Isaiah 27:6 to 28:13, Isaiah 29:22-23, and Jeremiah 1:1 to 2:3


Note that Genesis 46:34 tells us that shepherds were an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians.

By comparing Genesis 15:13, Genesis 15:16, Exodus 1:1-10, and Exodus 12:40-41 we see that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years, and for the final four generations (80 years, judging by Moshe's age at the time) they were enslaved.

To grow from 70 people to 603,550 people in 430 years requires having, every 20 years, a population increase of just slightly more than 50%. This is not unreasonable population growth, assuming that resources were abundant and health was good. (I am assuming the "70 people" was only male children and grandchildren of Ya'akov, so the two population figures are equivalent. Even if we begin with exactly 70 people and grow to four times the 603,550, to account for women and children, the growth rate only need increase from about 1.5 to about 1.6.)

In verse 2:6 we learn that the infant Moshe was behaving at that moment as God was: crying, but silently.

In verse 3:6 Moshe is afraid to look at God. Moshe later overcomes this fear, and becomes famous for speaking to God "face to face".

Note that the same Hebrew word, tayvat, is used to describe the ark in which Noach floats and the basket in which Moshe floats. But Noach was called to hide from God's judgment, whereas Moshe was called to be part of bringing God's judgment.

In verse 3:2 an angel causes the burning bush. In verse 3:4 God himself comes to the burning bush but only after Moshe expresses interest.

Oddly, when Moshe is born his mother declares he is good (ki tov), the same phrase used during the creation account.

Note that at the age of twenty, Moshe reveals himself to the Israelites as a high ranking person serving the "king" (Pharaoh) who is willing to help lead them from slavery, but the Israelites refuse his help and complain he is acting high-and-mighty. Moshe can't handle this and flees. Later in life the same situation arises: Moshe, serving Israel's king by leading the Israelites from slavery, is accused of being high-and-mighty. But by then Moshe has matured enough to handle the situation properly, but seeking help from God.

Why does Moshe ask for all of Israel to go worship Adonai with a chag (pilgimage festival) (verse 5:1)? Isn't it unreasonable that even the women and children would go? And isn't Israel's purpose to permanently leave, not to go for a time worship and then return? But Israel is Adonai's "firstborn" nation, and at this time all firstborn do the worship, and all firstborn are dedicated to God. Moshe is speaking correctly: Adonai is wanting his firstborn to be dedicated to himself now, not to Pharaoh or Egypt, and this will require a chag in the desert.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

Why does verse 1.7 tell us the Israelite children were "very, very strong"? Because when twins are born they may be weak, sharing the strength that would have gone into one child. But Israel was increasing in number rapidly and this never happened.

The final word of verse 1:9, mimenu means "from us". The Egyptians were falsely claiming that the Israelites had increased at the expense of the Egyptians.

Rashi explains that the names of the midwives can mean beautify (Shifra) and pacify (Puah). Moshav Z'keinim says these two midwives were actually the "head midwives", since of course so large a people would need more than two midwives. Others disagree, claiming Shifra and Puah spoke the truth about being seldom needed.

Miriam's name means "bitterness". She was born slightly before Moshe, and was named after the bitterness of the slavery of those days.

Binah la'Itim comments that perhaps Moshe, when motivated to rescue the Hebrew being beaten by the Egyptian taskmaster, assumed that the Hebrew people were all pacifists. He did not flee Egypt after murdering the task master in part because he believed he could teach the Hebrews how to fight back. But then he saw to Hebrews fighting, and learned that the Hebrews were not pacifistic. Moshe became uncertain how to rally his kinsmen, who could be violent and could revolt yet chose not to. When the man whom Moshe saved could not keep a secret, Moshe decided organizing a rebellion was futile, and he fled.

Tradition has disagreement about Moshe's age when he was put into the Nile: three months (from verse 2:2) to two years!

Interesting stories have been created to highlight the way verse 1:22 says all infant boys, not just Hebrew infant boys, are to be drowned. Most of these stories begin with the Egyptian astrologers predicting that a man would be born to be the Israelite's savior, but he would suffer from water. Pharaoh was not sure this potential savior was a Hebrew. Moshe fulfilled such a prophecy, crying while being tossed about upon Nile. The astrologers then inform Pharaoh that the prophecy has been fulfilled, and children stop being killed. Thus Moses saves people at the age of three months!

An infant, in Hebrew, is a yeled. Moshe is properly called this in verses 3:3 and 3:6. But in verse 3:6, when his crying is mentioned, he is also called a na-ar, an older boy or young man. Efraim Levine speculates that Moshe's voice sounded too old, perhaps an aspect of his speech impediment.

In Genesis 50:24 Yosef prophecies that God will pokod yifkod ("attend to, will attend to", or "visit, will visit") the Israelites in Egypt. The next verse can be interpreted as Yosef requiring has his brothers swear that they (i.e., their descendants) will some day say that phrase. The same phrase is what God tells Moshe to proclaim in Exodus 3:16: pokod pakadti ("attend to, I attended to", or "visit, I visited"). Tradition claims that the Israelite leaders knew to expect that phrase, and when it was used by Moshe who was taught only by Pharaoh and Yitro then they Israelite leaders were convinced of Moshe's authenticity.

Egypt is a land that (except for Potifar's wife) treated Yosef, Israel, and their family kindly for over 300 years and saved them from famine. Rabbi Ismar Schorsch notes that in the Exodus story God punishes Egypt for its evils and false gods, but bears no lasting hatred towards Egypt (Deuteronomy 23:8).

Tradition teaches that God's name for himself, Ehyeh Asher Ehyey, "I Am Who I Am", is intended to imply "As I am with the Israelites in this instance of oppression, I shall be with them in those to come."

Moshe is concerned that the Israelites will not believe in his mission to free them, and in refusing him speak ill of both himself and of God. Rashi writes that the sign of changing something (the staff) into a snake was intended to remind the Israelites of Eden: "Do not speak ill of God as the serpent did in Eden!" Similarly, leprosy was known as a punishment for speaking ill of someone (as happens to Miriam in Numbers 12:10) and having the messenger's hand become briefly leprous would also be a warning against insulting him or God.

The events of 4:24-26 are really strange. Why didn't Moshe circumcise Gershom earlier? Why did God react at that time, so violently? The sages say that Yitro, as a priest of Midyan, had forbidden his grandson from being dedicated to a non-Midianite god. Moshe agreed from respect for this father-in-law. But then Moshe left Yitro, and things changed. One traditional explanation is that Moshe did not circumcise Gershom as he left Yitro's household because that would require a delay of three days for the boy to heal, and Moshe was eager to promptly obey God's instruction to go to Egypt; but at the inn Moshe delayed to gather information, and God became angry that Moshe would delay for his own agenda (reconnaissance) but not for God's agenda (circumcision). Another explanation is that Moshe was wanting to respect Yitro's desires even after leaving his household, prioritizing honoring his step-father over fulfilling the commandment of circumcision -- similar to how he would later use "moral values of conscience" to repeatedly gain pardon for the Israelites by critiquing God's intentions of punishment; when the crisis came, Tzipporah realized more quickly that God's desires had priority over Yitro's. In other words, the same use of conscientious mercy over unquestioning obedience that is later a virtue is also exhibited here, but this time almost gets Moshe killed.

There is story that when Pharaoh told Moshe and Aharon, "I do not know Adonai, nor will I let Israel go" verse 5:2) Pharaoh actually said, "I am a God, and I have a book in which the names of every idol is listed, and none are named by your God's name." Moshe replied, "Adam taught Methuselah, who taught Noach, who taught Avraham, who taught Ya'akov, who taught Yosef. Thus we know about the creation of the universe and about Adonai. But you are not named in our teachings!"

Verses 5:19-23, in which the overseers are in trouble, have led the sages to agree that the overseers were Israelites put inn positions of responsibility for assuring the quotas were achieved. Numerous stories have been written about how the overseers were virtuous and allowed themselves to be beaten rather than oppress their kinsmen.

There are numberous Rabbinical stories from this Parasha's events that extol the virtue of the Israelite women of this generation. The two midwives are the clear heroines of the first chapter of Shemot. For example, even verse 1:14 is interpreted to praise that generation's women: the phrase "and in all kinds of work in the fields" is interpreted by Yalkut to imply that Pharaoh ordered the men to both work and sleep in the fields in order to separate them from their wives and halt the Israelite population growth; Yalkut goes on to describe how the Israelite wives would bring food to their husbands at night, and share the discomfort of sleeping outside. It is taught that on Friday nights the women are the first to welcome Shabbat (with the candle blessing) because the women were the virtuous ones of the generation of the Exodus.