With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shemot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males. Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yocheved to fulfill that role. Years later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai) Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael , the land promised to their ancestors. Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-d’s agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker, G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.
“And these are the names of the children of Yisrael.” (1:1)
Imagine a grandmother sitting with a stack of photos of her grandchildren. She takes out the pictures after breakfast and leafs through them, reciting the names of each of her beloved treasures, one by one.
After lunch she has a nap, and then, well, she takes out her photos again and recites their names again.
And last thing at night, out come the pictures for a last time, kissing them and calling each of them by name.
The name of the book of Exodus in Hebrew is “Shemot”, The Book of Names.
It starts with a list of the names of the children of Yaakov.
Even though the Torah had already detailed the names of Yaakov’s children in their lifetimes, the Torah lists their names again here after their passing from the world, to show how dear they are to G-d.
Because something that is dear and highly-prized is repeated and re-examined many times.
Like the photos of a doting granny.
The children of Yisrael are likened to the stars. Just as G-d counts the stars and calls them by name when they come out, and again when they pass from the world and are gathered in, similarly he counts the children of Israel both when they enter this world and when they are gathered in.
We should remember that since we are compared to the stars we must emulate the stars. Just as the purpose of the stars is to radiate light to the darkest and most distant corner of the universe, so too it is the job of the Jewish People to radiate spiritual light to the most benighted corners of the world.
“Every son that will be born – into the river shall you throw him!” (1:22)
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Never before in history have there been so many opinions as to what we should and should not eat.
Apart from their physical benefits, many of today’s diets also focus on the purported spiritual benefits of eating and refraining from certain kinds of foods and food mixtures.
The Jewish People, however, have had their own spiritual diet for well over three thousand years. The Torah describes which foods bring us to a clearer contact with G-d and which foods distance us. It also describes foods that are not in themselves deleterious to our spirituality but are damaging when combined, like milk and meat.
In this week’s Torah portion, the Egyptians mercilessly cast Jewish babies into the river. The Midrash describes that the river brought all of those little Jewish children to desert lands and ejected them on the shore. There the Divine Presence nurtured them. G-d commanded the rock on one side of these babies to produce honey, and He commanded the rock on the other side to give forth oil and nurse the infants.
Later, at the parting of the sea at Yam Suf, it was these same children who recognized G-d and cried out, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him!”
When we take care to feed out children only kosher food we help them to ingest a spirituality that will one day enable them to recognize G-d in a world where He is almost invisible.