Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
Sh'mot (Exodus)
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1. Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. Plague details:
5. Exercises
1. Parsha details:  Ex 10:1-13:16 (tri 12:29-13:6) [Haftorah Jeremiah 46:13-28] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The Parsha concludes the plagues: Locusts, Darkness and Death of the First Born and the first Pesakh (pass-over offering).  And the drama continues.

The interchange between Moses and Pharaoh continues to be the diplomatic dance that often precedes conflicts.  The Parsha starts with God explaining to Moses that He has hikh'bad'ti (see discussion on this word below) Pharaoh's heart (and the heart of his servants) so that he can demonstrate signs amongst the children of Israel -- so that they will be able to tell their children (and their children's children) about them.

So Moses (and Aaron) go to Pharaoh and draw a vivid verbal picture of the upcoming locusts and then turn and go out.  There is an undertone here -- they are not being called and they are not being dismissed -- definite shift in displayed attitude.  Even the opening sentence is pointedly questioning -- setting Pharaoh on edge, to be sure.  And after Moses and Aaron leave, Pharaoh's servants tell him to send out the men to go do their thing because the current friction is destroying the country.  

And so Moses and Aaron are brought back and Pharaoh says (If I would put it into today's words) "So, if I would let you go to do your God thing, who would go?"  And Moses says everyone and everything.  Pharaoh: "Right, I should just say "God be with you and just let you go like that?  Not. I see your little plot.  If you just want to take the men and do the worship, go.  Isn't that what you supposedly want?"  And they are driven from before Pharaoh (the word also means divorce).  And so the locusts come.  And they eat everything green.  

Isn't it appropriate to read this just before TU b'Sh'vat, the new year of the trees?  (I will send out a quick piece on the holiday next week)

So Pharaoh calls quickly to Moses and Aaron and apologized to them (for this one sin only -- which one?  probably the anger) and asked forgiveness -- and the locusts leave, but the children of Israel do not.  So without another audience, Darkness comes, a darkness that can be felt - wow.

So Pharaoh calls Moses and tells him, "Okay, the children can go -- just leave the floks and cattle"  Moses says no, all must go.  Pharaoh says no and then loses his temper "Get out from me, take heed to yourself, see my face no more; for the day you see my face you shall die."

 And Moses answers, "You are so right, I will NOT see your face again."  Can you feel the silence after that remark?  I wonder how long they stared at each other before anyone moved.  Or did Moses say this, turn around a leave Pharaoh with a blank look on his face?  Torah doesn't say. 

The scene shifts to internal matters (more or less).  Moses is talking to the Children of Israel -- we haven't heard much of this activity before now.  Torah has been concerned with the developments and interactions between Moses and Pharaoh. But now we get an insight into the relationship between the people of Mitzrayim and the people of Israel -- they get along pretty well -- and isn't that often the case before hostilities break out.  And then there is 11:3:
"And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh's servants, and in the sight of the people."  So the average Egyptian is not anti-Israel.  Moses is even winning the popular opinion polls -- I wonder what Pharaoh's job approval rate was....  Can you see the CNN reporter?

And then the first Pesakh -- notable is that the entire 'firstborn lamb' sacrifice must be eaten in that one night, no carrying back of stuff.  People are to get together to form groups large enough to do this and then stay together the whole night.  This is the memorial for what is about to happen.  One really good meal with no left-overs before they leave.

And we get our first reference to totafot (frontlets) between the eyes.  They are mentioned twice within a few verses: "And it shall be for a sign to you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord's Torah may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand has the Lord brought you out of Egypt."  Ever wonder what they looked like back then?  By the time of Qumran, they were very tiny leather things, not the big t'fillin we wear today.

Is there any relationship between the totafot and the jewelry of that period?  Or what about those beak-things we see on the heads of Egyptians?

And then we get to the actual plague.  We are told that the homes of the children of Israel were 'passed over' because they did the blood on the door posts.  What exactly did go through the land that night?  "For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment; I am the Lord. And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt."  

This was a natural (...) event initiated by the Divine -- the active ingredient (the Mash'khit) was able to discriminate between its victims thanks to the blood.  When man initiates disaster, it is unable to discriminate so well.  Somewhat like the magicians in Egypt -- we can start things -- and then they can go haywire.  Even 'smart' bombs can go wrong or have complications and side effects.  And what about what we are doing to the environment -- we won't even know the repercussions of that for years if not generations.

And so the Egyptians rush Israel out of the country.  Can you imagine the sight? "And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot, who were men, [and probably the same number of women] beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, and very many cattle."  That must have been an incredible sight as they left Goshen.

Pharaoh knew they were leaving for good -- and if he had any doubts the void left behind them would demonstrate it so graphically.  But then, despite the political games between Moses and Pharaoh -- they both knew the reality all along.  Biblical spin.  A quick return to the time of Joseph (Gen 50:5):  "Now therefore let me go up, I beg you, and bury my father, and I will return."   Moses never says anything about returning after doing the "service to the Lord" -- but then, he didn't intend to and Pharaoh knew this -- did Pharaoh's public?  What implications were there for Pharaoh with other peoples in Egypt?  Have politics changed at all?
3. Some Observations

Many breaks in the columns and much white space -- can you imagine how many tales and side tales and midrash and aggadah there must be and have been about this time?  The old Irish curse of "May you live in interesting times" keeps floating through my mind.  Those certainly were interesting times.  Many details are repeated twice, especially in the rooting of Pesakh.  

This is definitely a birthing time for the children of Israel.  The contractions are just about over, the baby nation moves from the womb of Goshen toward the sea....

The drama is still breath-taking after thousands of years -- and even knowing the ending does not diminish it.

Language:  Two different words are used to describe the state of Pharaoh heart (and that of his servants from time to time -- how do all of the servants have one heart?).  The two words are from the roots of ch*b*d  and kh*z*q.  

According to my trusty dictionary, ch*b*d means:  "liver, be heavy, be serious, be honored, heavy, grave, serious, weighty, hefty, stodgy, ponderous, sullen, hulking, burdensome, labored, lymphatic [singular; sing-nismach]" or even, "to honor, to respect, to give refreshments [masc-sing-imperative]".  

And kh*z*q means: "to make strong, to strengthen [masc-sing-imperative] " or "strong, firm, severe, sinewy, mighty, hefty, brawny, burly, stout, robust, potent, vigorous, forceful, telling, massive, forte, intense, foursquare, masculine, virile, forcible, [adj-masc-sing]"

Ch*b*d is used 5 times and kh*z*q is used 8 times throughout the account.  Sometimes Pharaoh does it to himself and sometimes God does it.  Was Pharaoh fighting depression and anger?  Wouldn't anyone in his position with upstart slaves?

So why are we told God did this?  Aren't we taught that we all have free will?  Why would the Divine force someone to do evil to Her children, Her people?  Torah tells us that it is being done " that I might show these my signs before him; And that you may tell in the ears of your child, and of your grandchild, what things I have done in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am the Lord."

So the ten plagues are for our benefit -- how many people who lived then would have seen that clearly?  Why does it take such incredible events and disasters for us to learn?  Do we always need to be hit on the side of the head (and MUCH worse) before we learn?  Why did Hagar and Yishmael have to almost die in the desert before she could see the well?  And why doesn't the All Powerful just "snap" the Divine "fingers" and fill us with knowledge?  Obviously, we do not have all the keys to this puzzle....  so much to learn.  So many keys to it in Torah.

4. Plague details:

A summary of Plague details to make the story easier to follow:
(This is a continuation of the details in last week's edition)

Plague #8 Locusts (Arbeh)
Pharaoh: "I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you." and ask for forgiveness against just this one sin.  After the locusts are carried away by the wind, he does not let them go.
Secondary effect: Ate everything the hail didn't get -- famine will follow....

Plague #9 Darkness (Khoshekh)
Pharaoh: Calls Moses and tells him that everyone but the flocks and herds may not go.  Moses says everyone must go and Pharaoh says no.
No obvious harm to anything -- just immobility for three days.

Plague #10 Death of the First Born (Hikat Bakhur)
Pharaoh: Tells Moses to go ahead and go -- with everyone and everything. And hurry; and bless him also.

Next Week:  The SEA!
5. Exercises

1. Darkness: Can you feel the darkness?  Does it permeate your body and senses?  Can you hear it?  When it feels like the darkness is everywhere, see/feel a single candle lighting in the distance, coming closer -- until the light from it shines everywhere, even inside us -- to the core.

2. Hard Heart: Do you ever have a hard heart? Go over all the words that the two Torah words could mean.  What does it take to soften the heart? What signs and miracles do you need to see to open up? Mentally massage your heart (you can do this physically, too). What can you do to see that it doesn't get hard? (Thank you Rabbi Marcia Prager for this exercise)

3. And YHVH said: What does that mean? How does YHVH speak?  Why does She speak?
What does He say?  Do we listen?  Do we learn?

There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.



(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved

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