Torah Weekly - Parshat Sh'mot

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Parshat Sh'mot

For the week ending 25 Tevet 5761 / January 19 & 20, 2001

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    With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shmot (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 be his nursemaid. 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 Hashem 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 Hashem's agent, so Hashem 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 Hashem 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 Hashem assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.




    "She named him 'Moshe,' saying, 'For I drew him from the water'. " (2:10)

    I was talking on the phone with an old friend. He's probably the oldest friend I have. We were English public schoolboys together nearly forty years ago. To say the least, we traveled very different roads. He married twice. The first time to a Jewish girl. They divorced without children. Now, he's married again. They have one child, a boy. His name is something like Sebastian.

    Last Shabbat at seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal), I was watching my sons sitting at the table (well, jumping all over the table really). My elder son was repeating words of Torah heard from the mouth of his rebbe, his teacher. Words that his rebbe had heard from his rebbe. Words thousands of years old and full of holiness. And I thought of my friend and his son. I remembered our conversation. My friend told me that his son was very bright and ran rings around his (Christian) bible teacher. "Sebastian" had asked his bible teacher, "Who created G-d?" This left the bible teacher in a lather of half-muttered apologetics such as, "You can't ask such questions...You don't understand..." My friend was pleased that his son was showing no signs of incipient Christianity. In his eyes he had bequeathed to him the atheism that he was brought up to believe was true Judaism.

    I said to him that I was surprised the bible teacher should have been stumped by such an easy question. "If someone had created god, then he wouldn't be G-d. By definition, G-d exists beyond creation. He created creation. Nothing can exist before Him or after Him. Time has no dominion over Him because He created time." For a moment, my friend wasn't quite sure whether I was preaching Christianity to him.

    And here at the Shabbat table, I was looking at my son "darshening" his little heart out. And I thought about what it had cost to get to this table. Breaking your teeth on a language that was taught to you so badly as a child that you'd have been better off not learning it at all. Feeling like an imbecile in front of any five year old cheder child. Having to reply "Ich nisht red Yiddish" when someone mistakes you for an FFB. Feeling that you will never quite fit in -- that there will always be edges that will never be rubbed smooth; having to explain to your daughters why their grandmothers don't wear sheitels.

    Was it worth it? Of course it was. How can you compare a Jewish life to any other? And that's just in this world...

    Every ba'al teshuva knows what it means to be moser nefesh. Literally, to give over your soul. To sacrifice.

    I looked out the window at the beautiful twilight of a Jerusalem Shabbat coming to an end. And I thought to myself -- we are living in times of mesirut nefesh. When an Arab tapes a bomb to his chest and blows himself up on a bus, it's not so simple that this is an act of mere lunacy. By his death, he has made the ultimate demonstration of mesirut nefesh for what he believes. Such sacrifice creates waves beyond this world.

    If any Arab leader agreed to cede one square inch of Jerusalem, I doubt he would find himself alive after his afternoon siesta. Many of our political leaders, on the other hand, see Jerusalem as highly negotiable. Important certainly -- culturally, historically, even religiously -- but ultimately, negotiable. Are we, as a nation, prepared to be moser nefesh for Jerusalem?

    Judaism does not require a person to volunteer his own death except in one of three situations: If he is being forced to worship an idol, kill someone, or commit an act of gross immorality. However, every day Jews are being killed for no reason other than that they are Jewish. They are being moser nefesh.

    "She named him Moshe, saying, 'For I drew him from the water'."

    Moshe had ten names. Moshe, Yered, Chaver, Yekutiel, Avigdor, Avi Socho, Avi Zanuach, Tuvia, Shemaya, Halevi.

    And, of all his names, the only one that G-d called him was Moshe, the name given to him by a gentile princess, Batya, Pharaoh's daughter. If G-d Himself used the name "Moshe" it must be that this name defines him more than any other.

    The name Moshe comes from the Egyptian name Monios meaning "to be drawn," for Moshe was drawn from the water by Batya.

    When Batya took Moshe out of the river, she was flouting her father's will. Pharaoh wanted to kill all Jewish baby boys. By saving Moshe she put her life on the line. She was being moser nefesh for Moshe.

    Because Batya risked her life to save Moshe, that quality of self-sacrifice was embedded in Moshe's soul. It was this quality that was his essence. For this reason G-d called him only by that name.

    If we don't know what we're prepared to die for, we don't really know what we're living for. If our lives are no more than survival, then we have already lost our sense of destiny. It's time to wake up. It's time to realize that life is more than standing in line to get our cellphone fixed.

    Moshe, our teacher, was closer to G-d then any other human being who walked this planet. His essence, his name, was given in self-sacrifice, in mesirut nefesh.

    "She [Batya] saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maidservant and she took it." (2:5)

    The Midrash explains that the word "maidservant" can be translated as "arm." Batya reached out her arm to retrieve the basket in which Moshe was floating. The basket was an impossibly long way from her arm. Nevertheless, Batya reached for it. It didn't cross her mind that her hand could never reach the basket. She just knew what had to be done, and she did it. She didn't make calculations of success or failure. There was then a paranormal event. Her hand grew until it reached the basket.

    This is a time to extend our hands, even if it seems that there is an impossible distance to travel. This is the time to reach out to our brothers and sisters, to become that true reflection of Shema Yisrael, to reflect the Oneness of He who is One in this world. This is the time to extend ourselves, to be moser nefesh for each other and for the Jewish People.

    May G-d reach out His hand to us and spread the protection of His peace over us and over all Israel, and over all mankind.

    • Ibn Ezra, Kotzker Rebbe
    • Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz


    Yeshaya 27:6 - 28:13, 29:22



    After 210 years of Egyptian bondage, G-d finally redeemed us with unparalleled miracles. Surely G-d could have wrought miracles two centuries earlier and saved a lot of trouble.

    Both the Egyptian bondage and its subsequent Exodus were promised to Avraham long before they occurred. The slavery and oppression were part of G-d's plan. The Prophet Yeshaya explains that we are not subject to the whim of our oppressors. Rather, our nation's suffering throughout the ages is part of G-d's plan. When the soul of the nation becomes soiled, when we stray from the Torah's path, G-d allows our oppressors to teach us what a weak little nation we are.

    Yeshaya foresees the time when the People of Israel will repent. When we return to the life of Torah G-d will exact justice on our enemies and gather the exiled Jews home to Jerusalem.


    "For (they think) that each mitzvah is only there for another mitzvah,
    one line for another line, another one for another one,
    pettiness here, pettiness there." (28:10)

    With the above -- some of Yeshaya's sharpest words ever to the Jewish People -- the prophet rebukes those in whose eyes Torah law is mere semantics -- one mitzvah for another mitzvah. Such people view Torah study as mental gymnastics -- one line for another, nothing but pettiness.

    What flaw underlies these people's skewed outlook?

    It would be impossible to appreciate the beauty of the Bayeaux tapestry just by looking at a square inch of it. Likewise, the beauty of the Torah can only be appreciated by seeing the whole picture. The prophet's criticism is that they never studied the Torah. They have viewed only a tiny corner of it from the outside. And still they dare mock it.

    When we engage in proper Torah study and plumb its depths, then we are able to see the Torah as one beautiful tapestry.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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