parashas Shemot 5782

parashas Shemot 5782

Humble Origins, Humble Beginnings

“And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.” – Exodus 2:2

Enslaved, at the bottom of the pyramid of the social structure, and strangers in a land that is not their own (Genesis 15:13). The words of Joseph, pekod pekodti – G-d will surely remember you – drifted across the generations, in the hearts of young and old. The redeemer, foretold, who would free the captives, and bring them to a land of milk and honey. And, he, himself, is born a slave, like unto his brethren, so that from this lowly start, he may serve as interlocutor between G-d and man (Exodus 20:19, Deut. 5:5, Psalm 106:23).

Thus, he enters the world at a time of darkness, when the ruler seeks to prevent his birth. For, Pharaoh had been told by his prognosticators, that a redeemer would be born. Pharaoh makes a drastic attempt to prevent the redeemer from fulfilling his role, by making a decree against all male infant children. Yet, the infant Moses, through divine guidance, is spared from this decree in a remarkable way.

“And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark made of reeds, and smeared it with tar and pitch, and put the child inside the ark; she placed the ark in the river, near the bank, within a clump of reeds.”

– Exodus 2:3

Pharaoh’s daughter, who traditionally is named Batya, found the babe, had compassion towards the Hebrew child and raised him as her own son in the palace. Moses grew up cognizant of his heritage as a Hebrew, because he was nursed by his natural birth mother. Moreover, this awareness remained with him, in terms of having a clear sense of his own identity as a Hebrew.

And, so, he went out amongst his brethren one day, in his adult years, he sympathized with their persecution. He fled Egypt, because he attempted to foment a rebellion of the Hebrew slaves against Pharaoh. In Midian, he married, and herded sheep for his father-in-law; until one day, he saw something very surprising – a vision of sorts. A bush in flames; yet, the bush was not consumed. An angel appeared to him in the bush; and, G-d spoke to him.

Moshe received his mission from G-d, to serve as the redeemer of his people, the children of Israel. Yet, Moshe, the humblest man alive at the time, as recorded later in Torah, hesitated to take the mission. The L-RD assured him that his older brother Aaron would help him along the way with the mission; and, so, he set out riding on a donkey to Egypt, where his brethren were still enslaved.

“And Aaron spoke all the words which H’Shem had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the L-RD had remembered the children of Israel, and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped” (Exodus 4:30-31, JPS 1917 Tanach).

Never Forget

parashas Shemot 5781

And G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.”

– Exodus 2:24, JPS 1917 Tanach

For four hundred years, the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. Upon crying out to G-d day and night, perhaps, they began to wonder when the Redeemer would arrive. The question may be asked, why did G-d permit so many years to pass, before He finally responded? One answer given is because not until the pleas of the Children of Israel were genuinely heartfelt did He answer them. At that time, finally, “they cried, and their cry ascended to the high heavens of the L-rd” (Targum Jonathan on Genesis 22:4, sefaria.org). Persistence in prayer, to the point of upmost sincerity, was eventually heard. “The L-RD is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” (Lamentations 3:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).


How did the Children of Israel become enslaved? Ironically, when Joseph was governing Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, he instituted a system, whereof all of the land was turned over to Pharaoh. When all the people of Egypt became destitute during the famine, they said to Joseph, “there is nought left in the sight of my lord, but our bodies, and our lands” (Genesis 47:18, JPS). “So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for the Egyptians sold every man his field, because the famine was sore upon them; and the land became Pharaoh’s” (Genesis 47:20, JPS). Yet, to what degree this system, wherein the Egyptians became serfs, remained in place over the ensuing years, thus setting the stage for a more fluid transition, when the Children of Israel became enslaved is unclear.


Consider that an entire people, the Children of Israel, a large population of common ethnic origin, could not have been made subject to slavery overnight. Perhaps, their subjugation occurred in a manner akin to the proverbial frog in boiling water. Thus, the temperature of the water is slowly increased, cooking the frog without a reaction from the frog, that would otherwise immediately jump out of the cooking pot, if it had been thrown into boiling water. Although the actuality of the proverb may not be accurate, the saying does serve as a descriptive metaphor. Can this metaphor be applied to the enslavement of the Children of Israel?

If so, perhaps, the narrative could serve as an admonition. In retrospect, a parallel can be drawn to a contenporary historical tragedy. The confinement of the Jewish people, to ghettos and concentration camps in Germany, only occurred after the institution of discriminatory laws, and state sponsored violence against German citizens of Jewish descent. However, the same principle may conveniently play out in other insidious designs, cast upon an unsuspecting people. Today, more than ever, in acknowledgment of the cultural shifts that eventually brought oppressive regimes into power, we should always remember the past, lest history repeats itself.

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