Updated: Jan 3, 2021
Parashat Shemot / פרשת שְׁמוֹת
Read in the Diaspora on 9 January 2021 (25 Tevet 5781).
Parashat Shemot is the 13th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
Torah Portion: Exodus 1:1-6:1
This week’s portion starts off the book of Exodus (“Shemot”). A new Pharaoh arose “who knew not Joseph”. This was a new dynasty which was more suspecting of foreigners. Since Joseph brought the “seventy souls”, which included his father, Jacob, and his brothers and their families, had now grown to include many Israelites. They were numerous in Egyptian society and the new Pharaoh appealed to the Egyptians sense of xenophobia.
Pharaoh aroused their fears by stating that should Egypt be attacked, the Hebrews would join forces with the attackers and conspire against the Egyptians. Pharaoh then enslaves the Israelites. Pharaoh’s astrologers then come to him and tell him that a redeemer is going to be born who will free the Israelites and defeat him. He then orders his soldiers to throw every newborn Israelite male into the Nile to drown.
A couple who are Levites save their son by putting him in a basket and sailing him down the Nile. The parents are later identified as Jocheved and Amram. The basket is found by Pharaoh’s daughter who wants to keep him. She calls him “Monios” (Egyptian) or “Moshe” (Hebrew) because she drew him from the water. Moses’ sister was watching and offers to have a Hebrew woman (turns out to be his mother) wet nurse him.
After he is weened, Moses returns to Pharaoh’s daughter who raises him as her son in the court. Moses grows up and sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. He intervenes and ends up killing him and hiding the body. The next day he sees two Israelites arguing and tries to resolve it. They confront him about the murder (the Midrash states these two were Dathan and Abiram). Pharaoh hears about it and Moses is forced to flee.
He arrives in Midian at a well where he helps seven daughters of Jethro, a Midianite chieftain, who are being bullied by Arabs from another tribe. They take him home and Jethro lets him stay there and marry his oldest daughter, Zipporah. Moses works for him as a shepherd and Zipporah gives birth to Gershom, their son.
Moses is out pasturing one day. Moses sees a bush that is burning but not consumed by the flames and it is Hashem summoning him. When Moses approaches the bush, it is Hashem who tells him he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and has heard the suffering of his people. Moses asks Him His name and he replies “I am who I am. He tells Moses he will send him to Egypt to redeem them from slavery.
Moses argues that he can not speak well but Hashem tells him He will be with him, and also Aaron his brother will serve as his mouthpiece. He also shows him signs by changing his staff into a snake, makes his hand leprous and turns the Nile red like blood.
Reluctantly, Moses takes his wife and son and they set out for Goshen where they are met by Aaron. They confront Pharaoh that Hashem wants him to let the Israelites go. He asks Pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt for a three-day festival to honor Hashem. Pharaoh retorts that he knows not of their god. He will also make the Israelites make bricks by also gathering their own straw.
The Israelites are now complaining that Moses has made their burden worse. Moses complains to Hashem. Hashem responds that now Pharaoh will see what will happen by him not releasing the Israelites.