1. Parsha details: Ex 1:1-6:1 (tri 4:18-6:1) [Haftorah Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Seph Jeremiah 1:1-2:3)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: The start of Sh'mot. The Parsha sets the stage for Moses with a quick review of how Israel came to be in Egypt, how they became slaves and how Moses was born, raises and ran to Midian. And then the action starts!
What a discussion between God and Moses.... we'll look at that in some more detail, but first, let's look at 1:10 -- that almost puts a shiver down the spine. Jews are often seen as a potential fifth column -- or at least that is the rationale used for actions against the children of Israel. Three generations in Canaan and something under 400 years in Egypt...and it came to pass [already] in those days. What quality do we have to invoke this response in so many people?
Torah goes on to talk about Moses' father and mother -- and not by name. (Stay tuned for next week...) It is part of Torah's style -- obviously the mother and father of Moses would be important and of interest -- but not at this point of the story. How he came to be adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, why he ran to Midian and how he came to be tending sheep near the burning bush are the core items in the preparation for Moses' charge.
Some of the details, wonderfully maintained and/or inserted into the text, include that Moses (and Aaron and Miriam) had Levite parents on both sides. (Later we will learn that the Levite man took his aunt as his wife.) We do not hear much about Moses until he is grown. Most of the details of his early life are midrash and agada and not in our written Torah. What determined the details that became legend and explanation and what became written?
And so we move to the detail of Moses' temper. When he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew (his brethren the text points out), he "looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand." (What an image -- can you see it happening?)
The very next day, when he is talking to two fighting slaves he realizes from their comments that his little deed of the day before is, in fact, common knowledge. Ooops. The only emotion we hear about now is fear -- and fear is resonable -- he is usurping Pharaoh's authority and killing his men and Torah tells us that Pharaoh considers this act (maybe there were multiple such acts?) serious enough to seek to slay Moses. And so Moses flees to Midian, where his future family calls him an Egyptian. He probably spoke with an Egyptian accent and wore Egyptian clothes, not Hebrew, because of his position.
Moses father-in-law was Jethro, but in 2:18, the father is called Re'u'el (shepherd of God?). Some critics seize on this name play (Jethro will be referred to with seven name variations) as an indication that Moses was not real, but multiple names are common and also, heads of households were often called father even if they were really grandfathers or even uncles. These nuances would have been understood in the audiences that heard these accounts when they were oral, and so, they did not warrant explanation when Torah was written down.
And so, Torah sets the stage. Moses has taken the sheep "far away into the desert" and sees the bramble aflame and learns that God's Presence is there. God calls to him and advises him that this is holy ground and he should take of his shoes. This pasuk is the reference used to forbid wearing shoes on the Temple mount, even after its destruction.
And then we see a give-and-take discussion between God and Moses. Moses mounts objection after objection, citing his own ability to carry out the charge. God is patient, answering questions, assuring him that he will not be alone. This discussion probably went on over more than one session -- this is implied in 4:10 where Moses says, "I am not eloquent, neither yesterday nor the day before, nor since you have spoken to your servant;" And the discussion continues.
And Moses sees that God is answering every objection, but he still does not want to go. Please, he says, send someone else. And God finally loses his patience -- the amazing part is that it took this long. What a lesson here!
And so God, finally angered, now lectures Moses on several details and tells him that Aaron will be with him. Wasn't God being with him enough? Are there times when that isn't enough for us, too?
So Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and do as God tells them -- they ask in His name that Israel be allowed to go up from Egypt foe three days and worship YHVH, the God of Israel. And Pharaoh replies with "Who is YHVH that I should listen to His voice?" This is the first time that somebody actively questions who God is -- in most other accounts, the use of Elohim or YHVH appears to bring recognition, if not obedience. If Hollywood were writing this scene, there would have been bolts of lightning about now.
Instead, Moses and Aaron try another explanation, which also doesn't work. Since Pharaoh does not recognize God, he certainly sees no reason to let people leave their work to sacrifice anything, especially a sacred animal, to this unknown God. Pharaoh asks them why they want the people to hish'batem (see shabbat in there?). And so, Pharoah sets out to teach them a lesson and uses this as an excuse to make their work harder -- the same quota without prepared supplies.
And it looks like Pharaoh is upsetting Moses' hold on the people -- the officers of Israel confront Moses and Aaron as they come out of the meeting with Pharaoh with why is he making their lives harder. Can you hear that bit of dialogue -- Some God! Instead of our leaving this land as free men, we now have to work harder!
And, not surprisingly, Moses takes this rejection personally and goes to God saying "Why didn't you deliver them???" How easy it is to give up on something and blame God when things don't work out quickly and easily. Of course, God knows that neither Israel nor Moses are ready for the trek across the wilderness yet. These may be a stiff-necked people, but they give up on the big picture easily.
And so God answers Moses that it will take a strong hand to get Pharaoh to let them go -- and then they will expelled with a strong hand (read: no turning back, folks....)
Does Moses understand the message or is he feeling very dejected at this point? How would you feel?
3. Some Observations
Spacing and language -- two books -- B'reyshit and Sh'mot. What a different style. B'reyshit has many 'closed' columns -- columns of polished text, 'complete accounts', without piecing together details from various oral memories. We had whole parshaiot with only one or two breaks and one parsha with none. And now Sh'mot -- only two closed columns in the whole sefer (book). One of those columns is in this parsha -- the account of the bush and God and Moses talking.
And this makes sense -- the older accounts would become more polished and refined in the oral retelling - and there were fewer people to pass these accounts through -- as we multiply, so do our details and definitions of what is important -- and the text reflects this transition. Our tradition recalls that there were multiple 'sefers' (smaller scrolls) that were collected into the 'five books' we have today. The exact mechanisms of this collection we can only guess at now. But, ahh, the secrets in the white spaces -- whether in and around words or between details and accounts -- ahhh.
God says to Moses: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God." This pasuk speaks much more than the simple words -- it is an 'AHA' for Moses. This is a growth point in understanding God -- God is not just the God of your father, the familial god that fathers call upon -- this is the One, the God that all fathers, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob called upon. How much time did Moses have to spend in quiet reflection far from Jethro's homestead to recognize this? We know that Moses gets the picture because of his response.
In just a few short words Torah can paint such a picture. God talks to Moses and he readily answers 'Here I am' -- and then the clearer concept forms. And then, he hides his face. Was it shame? probably not -- just one of those moments when you realize how 'awesome' the Divine really is.
And then the two of them discuss what God wants Moses to do. But Moses is wrestling, as most of the people we read about in Torah.
What wrestlers we are. We fight with the Divine at every turn. We surely earn the title a 'stiff-necked people'. Some things never change. And even talking one-on-one with God is not enough for Moses, truly a great man. He still needs Aaron, he'd still rather not go. Talk about bucking the Flow....
But God is patient. And as the parsha closes, he explains that Israel must leave Egypt in a way that there is NO turning back -- does Moses understand? The scene is being set for one-way tickets. What love to shelter and guide such a people. Will we ever be satisfied? Perhaps She enjoys the wrestling, too? Maybe without the wrestling we can never really accept Her?
1. Fire: Focus on a flame. Can you see the Divine there? Can you lose yourself in it? What would it be like to gaze a bramble that burns and is not consumed.
2. Wrestling: Who do you wrestle with? Do you go out of your way to create opportunities to wrestle? Is your energy well spent? Does it put you in touch with the Energy that flows? Or do you buck it? Will you hear when the Divine calls?
3. God of your father, etc: What does it mean to be described this way. Do you have the same concept of God that you father and mother did? How about Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rivka, Jacob, Leah and Rachel? How many aspects and concepts can there be? What's yours?
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