Exodus (Shemoth) 1:1 – 6:1
These are the names of Israel’s sons who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher.
The original number of Jacob’s direct descendants, including Joseph who was in Egypt, was seventy. Joseph, his brothers, and everyone else in that generation died.
The Israelites were fertile and prolific, and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
The New King
A new king who did not know of Joseph, came into power over Egypt. He announced to his people, “The Israelites are becoming too numerous and strong for us. We must deal wisely with them. Otherwise, they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving us from the land.”
The Egyptians appointed conscription officers over the Israelites to crush their spirits with hard labor. The Israelites were to build up the cities of Pithom and Ra’amses as supply centers for Pharaoh.But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites proliferated and spread. The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
The Egyptians started to make the Israelites do labor designated to break their bodies. They made the lives of the Israelites miserable with harsh labor involving mortar and bricks, as well as all kinds of work in the field. All the work they made them do was intended to break them.
The king of Egypt spoke to the chief Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shifra and Puah. He said, “When you deliver Hebrew women, you must look carefully. If the infant is a boy, kill it; but if it is a girl, let it live.”
The midwives feared HaShem, and did not do as the Egyptian king had ordered them. They allowed the infant boys to live. The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and demanded, “Why did you do this? You let the infant boys live!”
“The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptians,” replied the midwives to Pharaoh. “They know how to deliver. They can give birth before a midwife even gets to them.”
HaShem was good to the midwives, and the people increased and became very numerous. Because the midwives feared HaShem, He gave them great families of their own.
Pharaoh then gave orders to all his people: “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile, but every girl shall be allowed to live.”
A man of the house of Levi went and married Levi’s daughter. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She realized how extraordinary the child was, and she kept him hidden for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she took a papyrus box, coating it with asphalt and pitch, and she placed the child in it. She placed it in the rushes near the bank of the Nile. The child’s sister stood herself at a distance to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile, while her maids walked along the Nile’s edge. She saw the box in the rushes, and sent her slave-girl to fetch it.
Opening the box she saw the boy. The infant began to cry, and she had pity on it. “It is one of the Hebrew boys,” she said. The infant’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?”
“Go,” replied Pharaoh’s daughter. The young girl went and got the child’s own mother. “Take this child and nurse it,” said Pharaoh’s daughter to the mother. “I will pay you a fee.” The woman took the child and nursed it.
When the child matured, his mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter. She adopted him as her own son, and named him Moses (Moshe). “I bore (mashe) him from the water,” she said.
When Moses was grown, he began to go out to his own people, and he saw their hard labor. One day he saw an Egyptian kill one of his fellow Hebrews. Moses looked all around, and when he saw that no one was watching, he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.
Moses went out the next day, and he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating your brother?” he demanded of the one who was in the wrong. “Who made you our prince and judge?” retorted the other. “Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses was frightened. “The incident is known,” he said. When Pharaoh heard about the affair, he took steps to have Moses put to death. Moses fled from Pharaoh, and ended up in the land of Midian.
Moses sitting near the well
The sheik of Midian had seven daughters, who came to draw water. As they were beginning to fill the troughs and water their father’s sheep, other shepherds came and tried to chase them away. Moses got up and came to their aid, and then watered their sheep.
When they came to their patriarch Reuel, he asked them, “How did you get to come home so early today?”
“An Egyptian stranger rescued us from some shepherds,” they replied. “He also drew water for us and watered our sheep.”
“And where is he now?” he asked his daughters. “Why did you abandon the stranger? Call him, and let him have something to eat.”
Moses decided to live with the man. He gave Moses his daughter Tzipporah as a wife. When she gave birth to a son, Moses named him Gershom. “I have been a foreigner (ger) in a strange land,” he said.
A long time then passed , and the king of Egypt died. The Israelites were still groaning because of their subjugation. When they cried out because of their slavery, their pleas went up before HaShem.
HaShem heard their cries, and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. HaShem saw the Israelites, and He was about to show concern.
The Burning Bush
Moses tended the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, sheik of Midian. He led the flock to the edge of the desert, and he came to HaShem’s Mountain, in the Horeb area.
HaShem’s angel appeared to Moses in the heart of a fire, in the middle of a thorn-bush. As he looked, Moses realized that the bush was on fire, but was not being consumed.
Moses said to himself, “I must go over there and investigate this wonderful phenomenon. Why doesn’t the bush burn?”
When HaShem saw that Moses was going to investigate, He called to him from the middle of the bush.
“Moses, Moses!” He said.
“Yes,” replied Moses.
“Do not come any closer,” said HaShem. “Take your shoes off your feet. The place upon which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, since he was afraid to look at the Divine.
HaShem said, “I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt. I have heard how they cry out because of what their slave-drivers do, and I am aware of their pain. I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey,
the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Yebusites. Right now the cry of the Israelites is coming to Me. I also see the pressure to which Egypt is subjecting them. Now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh. Bring My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” said Moses. “And how can I possibly get the Israelites out of Egypt?”
“Because I will be with you,” replied HaShem. “Proof that I have sent you will come when you get the people out of Egypt. All of you will then become God’s servants on this mountain.”
Moses said to God, “So I will go to the Israelites and say, ‘Your fathers’ G-d sent me to you.’ They will immediately ask me what His name is. What shall I say to them?”
“I am Who I am,” replied HaShem to Moses. HaShem then explained, “This is what you must say to the Israelites: ‘I Will Be sent me to you.’ ” HaShem then said to Moses, “You must then say to the Israelites, ‘The God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sent me to you.’ This is My eternal name, and this is how I am to be recalled for all generations. ‘Go, gather the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers, appeared to me – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He said, ‘I have granted you special providence regarding what is happening to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you out of the wretchedness of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Yebusites – to a land flowing with milk and honey.’ ‘ ‘They will take what you say seriously. You and the elders of Israel will then go to the king of Egypt. You must tell him, ‘God of the Hebrews, revealed Himself to us. Now we request that you allow us to take a three day journey into the desert, to sacrifice to our God.”
“I know in advance that the Egyptian king will not allow you to leave unless he is forced to do so. I will then display My power and demolish Egypt through all the miraculous deeds that I will perform
in their land. Then Pharaoh will let you leave. ‘I will give the people status among the Egyptians, and when you all finally leave, you will
not go empty-handed. Every woman shall borrow articles of silver and gold, as well as clothing, from her neighbor or from the woman living with her. You shall load this on your sons and daughters, and you will thus drain Egypt of its wealth.”
When Moses was able to reply, he said, “But they will not believe me. They will not listen to me. They will say, ‘God did not appear to you.’ ”
‘What is that in your hand?’ asked HaShem.
“Throw it on the ground.”
When Moses threw it on the ground, it turned into a snake, and Moses ran away from it. God said to Moses, “Reach out and grasp its tail.”
When Moses reached out and grasped the snake, it turned back into a staff in his hand.
“This is so that they will believe that God appeared to you,” He said. ‘The God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” HaShem then said to Moses, “Place your hand on your chest inside your robe.”
When Moses placed his hand in his robe and removed it from his chest, it was leprous, as white as snow. “Place your hand in your robe again,” said HaShem. Moses placed his hand back into his robe, and when he removed it from his chest, his skin had returned to normal.
“If they do not believe you,” said God, “and they do not pay attention to the first miraculous sign, then they will believe the evidence of the second sign. And if they also do not believe these two signs, and still do not take you seriously, then you shall take some water from the Nile and spill it on the ground. The water that you will take from the Nile will turn into blood on the ground.”
Moses pleaded with HaShem. “I beg You, HaShem, I am not a man of words – not yesterday, not the day before – not from the very first time You spoke to me. I find it difficult to speak and find the right language.”
“Who gave man a mouth?” replied HaShem. “Who makes a person dumb or deaf? Who gives a person sight or makes him blind? Is it not I – HaShem? Now go! I will be with your mouth and teach you what to say.”
“I beg you O Lord!” exclaimed Moses. “Please! Send someone more appropriate!”
“Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he knows how to speak! He is setting out to meet you, and when he sees you, his heart will be glad. You will be able to speak to him, and place the words in his mouth. I will then be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you. He will be your spokesman, and you will be his guide. Take this staff in your hand. With it, you will perform the miracles.”
Moses Leaves Midian
Moses left and returned to his father-in-law Jethro. He said, “I would like to leave and return to my people in Egypt, to see if they are still alive.”
“Go in peace,” said Jethro to Moses.
While Moses was still in Midian, HaShem said to him, “Go return to Egypt. All the men who seek your life have died.”
Moses took his wife and sons and, putting them on a donkey, set out to return to Egypt. He also took the divine staff in his hand.
HaShem said to Moses, “On your way back to Egypt, keep in mind all the wondrous powers that I have placed in your hand. You will use them before Pharaoh. But I will make him obstinate, and he will not allow the people to leave. You must say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what HaShem says: Israel is My son, My firstborn. I have told you to let My son go and serve Me. If you refuse to let him leave, I will ultimately kill your own first-born son.’ ”
When they were in the place where they spent the night along the way, HaShem confronted Moses and wanted to kill him. Tzipporah took a stone knife and cut off her son’s foreskin, throwing it down at Moses’ feet. “As far as I am concerned, you’re married to blood”, she said to the child. HaShem then spared Moses. “You were married to blood because of circumcision,” she said.
HaShem said to Aaron, “Go meet Moses in the desert.”
Aaron went, and when he met Moses near HaShem’s Mountain, he kissed him. Moses described to Aaron everything that HaShem had
told him about his mission, as well as the miraculous proofs that He had instructed him to display. Moses and Aaron went to Egypt, and they gathered all the elders of Israel. Aaron related all the words that HaShem had told Moses, and he demonstrated the miraculous proofs before the people.
The people believed. They accepted the message that HaShem had granted special providence to the Israelites, and that He had seen their misery. They bowed their heads and prostrated themselves.
First Confrontation with Pharaoh
Moses and Aaron then went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the God of the Hebrews, declares: ‘Let My people leave, so they can sacrifice to Me in the desert.’ ”
Pharaoh replied, “Who is that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not recognize Him. Nor will I let Israel leave.”
“The God of the Hebrews has revealed Himself to us”‘ said Moses and Aaron. “Please, allow us to take a three day journey into the desert, and let us sacrifice to HaShem. Otherwise, He may strike us down with the plague or the sword.”
The Egyptian king said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why are you distracting the people from their work? Get back to your own business! The peasants are becoming more numerous, and you want them to take a vacation from their work!”
That day, Pharaoh gave new orders to the people’s administrators and foremen. He said, “Do not give the people straw for bricks as
before. Let them go and gather their own straw. Meanwhile, you must require them to make the same quota of bricks as before. Do not reduce it. They are lazy, and are protesting that they want to go sacrifice to their God. Make the work heavier for the men, and make sure they do it. Then they will stop paying attention to false ideas.”
The administrators and foremen went out and told the people, “Pharaoh has said that he will no longer give you straw. You must go and get your own straw wherever you can find it. Meanwhile, you may not reduce the amount of work you must complete.”
The people spread out all over Egypt to gather grain stalks for straw. The administrators pressured them and said, “You must complete your daily work quota, just as before when there was straw.”
The Israelite foremen, whom Pharaoh’s administrators had appointed, were flogged. They were told, “Yesterday and today you did not complete your quotas. Why didn’t you make as many bricks as before?”
The Israelite foremen came and protested to Pharaoh. “Why are you doing this to us?” they said. “We are no longer given straw, but we are told to make bricks. We are the ones being flogged, but it is your people’s fault.”
“You are lazy!” retorted Pharaoh. “Lazy! That’s why you are saying that you want to sacrifice to HaShem. Now go! Get to work! You will not be given any straw, but you must deliver your quota of bricks.”
The Israelite foremen realized that they were in serious trouble. They had been clearly told that they could not reduce their daily brick quota. When they were leaving Pharaoh, the foremen
encountered Moses and Aaron waiting to meet them.
“Let HaShem look at you and be your Judge,” they said. “You have destroyed our reputation with Pharaoh and his advisers. You have placed a sword to kill us in their hands.”
Moses returned to HaShem and said, “O Lord, why do You mistreat Your people? Why did You send me? As soon as I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he made things worse for these people. You have done nothing to help Your people.”
HaShem said to Moses, “Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh. He will be forced to let them go. Not only that, but he will be forced to drive them out of his land.”
Next Week’s Parsha : VaEra Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
Next Week’s Haftara: Ezekiel 28.25-29.21