Parshat Shemot

This week we have entered the book of Shemot, where the next few readings will relate the bitter slavery which the Jews had to go through in Egypt. In fact, the Jews will spend the next four parshot (Shemot, Va’era, Bo and Beshalach) in the land of Egypt until finally they leave and start their journey through the desert.

This magnificent Parshah starts off relating how, after the death of all of Yaakov’s 12 sons, the Jews very much assimilated into Egyptian culture, running the Egyptian circuses and cinemas. This prominence on the Jews part led to anti Semitism. Just like we saw a few weeks back when Yitzchak became prominent and very successful in the land of Gerar, and Avimelech and the Pelishtim told him to leave the land, as being a Jew, he was seen as a huge threat. (Bereishit 26:16)

The Egyptians enslaved the Jews, making them do monstrous tasks for them, for literally no pay. The king of Egypt was hoping the huge burden of tiresome work for the Jews would lead to a much lower birth rate, however Hashem performed a miracle and the Jewish mothers were giving birth to around 6 healthy babies each time when giving birth.

As the king of Egypt saw that this was not reducing the Jewish birth rate, he ordered all the Jewish midwives to kill the new born babies (Sota 12), however the midwives did the opposite, they nursed the babies instead, the Midrash teaches us it was Miriam and Yochevad who were the midwives of the Jewish people (Sota 11b). Once the Egyptian King saw that this was not working he ordered that all the babies must be thrown into the river, believing that the G-d of the Jews had no power over water.

Moshe was then born circumcised to Amram and Yochevad, and in fear of the Egyptian decree, his sister, Miriam, gently placed him in a casket and put him in the river, hoping for Hashem to perform a miracle in which he would be rescued on the other side. In fact, it was the daughter of Pharaoh, a girl of the name Batya, who rescued Moshe (Shemot 2:6) and then brought him up and raised him in the house of her father, the king of Egypt, Pharaoh.

Moshe grew up to be a G-d fearing man and was sickened by the troubles all the Hebrews were going through in being slaved.

Moshe later on had to flee from Egypt due to an incident in which he saved an individual’s life when an Egyptian man was about to murder a Jew, he defended the Jew and killed the Egyptian in pure self defence. Despite this heroic act, he had to run away. (Shemot 2:15)

In his years away from Egypt, he married a woman of the name Tzipporah; she was the daughter of Yitro, a man who would later convert to Judaism. In fact Moshe ‘earned’ the marriage by saving seven of Yitro’s daughters while they were collecting water from a well in the land of Midiyan, as the girls were being attacked by some men and guess who stepped in to save them? Moshe! (Shemot 2:17)

Moshe later on became an excellent Shepherd. One day while searching for pasture land, Moshe saw an exhilarating sight, a bush burning, which wasn’t being devoured in any way. Hashem spoke to Moshe instructing him to lead the Jewish people and to speak to Pharaoh, ordering him to allow the Jews to leave Egypt for a few days so that they could bring sacrifices to the ‘Hebrew’ G-d. Moshe answered Hashem in total humility, saying that he doesn’t have the capability of leading the Jews and also it wouldn’t be right for him to lead while his older brother would have to follow on in a lower position (Berachot 7).

We learn two lessons from Moshe’s attitude, first of all despite being very humble, shy and having a speech problem, he still went on to become arguably the greatest leader of all time, proving that anyone is capable of anything if they set their eyes on it, and furthermore he gave honour to his older brother which is also viewed as important in Judaism.

Moshe did finally accept the position of leader of the Jewish people and in fact, his brother, Aaron, rejoiced at this news.  From Aaron’s attitude we learn that one should always be happy for another individual’s good news and rejoice when an individual is, for example, getting married or having a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. Being happy for others is a crucial trait in Judaism and one should avoid being jealous at any costs of other people’s success.

The Parshah progresses with the birth of Moshe's son, while he was on his travels. In fact, Moshe nearly got punished for delaying the Brit Mila of his son, with an angel even attempting to kill him (Nedarim 31b -32a). When a Jewish baby is born, it is vital on the eighth day after birth by Jewish law to have a Brit Mila, if that is not possible, it should be done at the earliest possible time pending on the health and strength of the baby, and the seriousness of this is illustrated in this episode of him delaying the Brit of his son.

Parshat Shemot concludes with Moshe relating to Pharaoh what Hashem had instructed him to say, however Pharaoh took no notice and did not allow the Jews to leave for ‘three days,’ in fact he intensified the slave labour upon the Jews. (Shemot 5:1)

We will see in next week’s reading, Parshat Va’era, that Hashem would not allow the slavery to go on any longer and would soon start off by punishing the Egyptians with the most gruesome of plagues.

This weeks Dvar Torah is dedicated to the recovery of Netanel Yosef Ben Yael Leah who has an eye related problem. Please pray for him to fully recover.

Hope you all have a fantastic Shabbat, Shabbat Shalom.