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Daf HaShavuah: Shemot

A new king arises over Egypt who does not know Joseph, and fears that the Israelites pose a threat to his power. The new Pharaoh forces them to brutal labour, building the garrison cities Pithom and Raamses. Despite the bitterness of slavery, the Israelites continue to thrive, so Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill any Jewish boy at birth. The midwives are pious, however, and they don’t follow Pharaoh’s order. Pharaoh then orders every Egyptian to throw the Israelite boys into the Nile to drown them.

A Levite woman, Yocheved, bears a son and hides him for three months. Shen then fashions a wicker basket to float her son down the Nile, hoping that he might survive. The baby’s sister, Miriam, follows on the shore, and sees Pharaoh’s daughter take the child as her own. Miriam offers the services of her mother as wet nurse. Pharaoh’s daughter names the child Moses.

When Moses is an adult, he walks among the slaves, seeing their oppression. He is so outraged by the sight of a taskmaster beating a slave that he kills the Egyptian. The next day, he tries to stop two Hebrews from fighting, and one accuses him “Who made you chief and ruler over us?”. Pharaoh tries to kill Moses, who flees to Midian. By a well, he defends the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, against others shepherds, and the women invite him home. He stays, and marries one of the daughters, Zipporah. They have a son whom Moses names Gershom, meaning “I was a stranger in a strange land”.

Pharaoh dies. God determines to free the Israelites. Moses sees a bush that burns, but is not consumed. God calls from the bush, commanding Moses to remove his shoes, since he is standing on holy ground. Then God tells Moses that he is to go to Pharaoh and insist that he let the Israelites go. To bolster Moses’ credibility, God reveals the special divine name, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, I will be Who I will be. God instructs Moses to turn his rod into a snake, to convince the people of his authenticity.

As Moses sets out for Egypt, God tells Aaron, his brother, to meet him in the wilderness. They assemble the elders of Israel, and the people, who are now convinced. Moses and Aaron then appear before Pharaoh, demanding, in the voice of the Holy One, that Pharaoh “Let My People go, that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness”. Pharaoh refuses, and orders the taskmasters to make the labour even more onerous. The stage is set for the stark confrontation between God and Pharaoh.

Based on The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson

Questions for discussion

1- The new Pharaoh didn’t know about Joseph or didn’t recognise that he did something good for Egypt? Or maybe he disapproved of his actions?

2- Are we forgiving for Moses’ righteous anger and zeal in defending a slave from the taskmaster? After all, it was not a capital offense so was Moses guilty of murder?

3- Moses said to Pharaoh that the Israelites wanted to go to worship God in the wilderness, not to be free from Egyptian slavery. Were Moses and Aaron lying?

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