Parashat Shemot

Dedicated In Honor of My Wife Elyse Orfali by Her Husband Steven


Parashat Shemot A New Chapter This week we begin an exciting chapter by starting a new book in the Torah with Parashat Shemot. Ramban writes a short introduction to Sefer Shemot, explaining the theme of the book. He mentions that Sefer Beresheet is also commonly called “Sefer Hayetzira—The Book of Creation,” which is the underlying theme throughout the book, from the moment of the actual creation of the world to the stories of the Avot and their children. The book of Shemot continues this story, beginning with the start of Galut Mitzrayim—the exile in Egypt, and ending with the shechina entering the mishkan after B’nei Yisrael receives the Torah at Har Sinai. Therefore, in his introduction, Ramban coins the term “Sefer Galut V’Geulah—The Book of Exile and Redemption” as another name for Sefer Shemot. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t it end at the redemption? Why does the sefer go on, passing Yetziat Mitzrayim and continuing all the way to the mishkan? Ramban explains, “The galut is not over until they [B’nei Yisrael] return to the level of their forefathers... and even once they achieve their freedom from Egypt, they are not considered redeemed yet, for they still wander in the desert. But once they arrive at Har Sinai to receive the Torah and build the mishkan, and G-d's shechina dwells upon them - then they return to the level of their forefathers and are then considered totally redeemed.” Sefer Beresheet was a book of creation, because the Avot planted their abilities and strengths in their descendants, and in Shemot these strengths sprouted and blossomed into complete redemption. The shechina was then able to connect to B’nei Yisrael as it had to the Avot. Still in Galut Parashat Shemot begins with the death of Yosef and his brothers. This brings us to a new era, which is introduced with the words “Vayakam melech chadash al Mitzrayim asher lo yada et Yosef —A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know about Yosef.” How can it be that the new king did not know who Yosef was? Everyone knew that Yosef had saved Egypt from the potentially catastrophic famine. The famine would have wreaked havoc on Egypt, had Yosef not predicted its arrival when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. Masechet Sota (11a) presents two possible explanations for this passuk: Either there was a new Pharaoh; or the same Pharaoh chose not to remember Yosef and the young Hebrew nation. Either way, this was the beginning of the first galut and remains a pattern throughout our history — one that B’nei Yisrael have to endure until this very day. We’d continued to suffer through the centuries, displaced from one country to another, forced to keep moving from place to place throughout the ages. The Jews nevertheless remained ambitious and innovative, and strove to excel and rise to the top in whatever areas allowed to them, making enormous contributions to their host countries when possible. They would then have to watch these adopted countries turn against them as virulent antisemitism swept through the population. Expulsions, persecution, and tragic massacres of Jews are ever-present throughout Jewish history, from the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Romans to England, France, Sicily, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Germany and others. Antisemitism tends to be at its worst when we begin to assimilate into a country’s culture. As part of Hashem’s plan, the country would then rid itself of its Jewish citizens. We were guests in Egypt and so many other countries throughout history, and today we are still guests in America. And now as we get too comfortable again, the antisemitic attacks have been running rampant. Now, more than ever, we must remember we do not belong here, and that our true home is Israel. True Courage The advisors of this “new” king of Egypt saw in the stars that the redeemer of the Jewish nation would be born in Egypt. So Pharaoh made a decree and told the Israelite midwives, Yocheved and Miriam, Moshe’s mother and sister, “When you deliver babies of the Hebrew women… if it’s a son, you are to kill him and if it’s a daughter, she shall live (1:16).” But the midwives were G-d fearing, and they did not do as Pharaoh ordered them. “The king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, Why have you done this thing, you have caused the boys to live (1:18)?’” The Rabbis explain that even when the boys were stillborn, the midwives would pray that Hashem revive them, so it wouldn’t look like they were following Pharaoh’s decree. Yocheved and Miriam were rewarded. “Because the midwives feared Hashem, He made them houses (1:21).” Rashi comments on this that since the midwives showed such devotion, they were rewarded with “houses,” which means that they became the ancestors of the kohanim and leviyim. If Pharaoh had succeeded in killing all the boys, and there were only girls, the Jewish nation would have continued; but there would have been no more kohanim and leviyim, because that is passed on through paternal rather than maternal descent. Yocheved and Miriam feared nothing and no one, because they answered to a Higher Authority, Hashem! Gadol Moshe was born, and Yocheved hid him in a basket, setting him afloat on the Nile River. Miriam followed to see what would happen to him and witnessed his retrieval by Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter. “She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maidservant to retrieve the basket. She opened it and saw him, the boy, and behold...a youth was crying (2:5–6).” Rashi asks, why does the Torah first call Moshe a boy and then a youth? The answer is that when the Torah calls him a boy, he was crying only for himself, because he was a hungry baby. When he was referred to as a youth, he was then crying as a mature person for the needs of the people. Thus, Moshe’s greatness was displayed from a very young age, when he had tremendous compassion and cried for his Hebrew brothers. Directly following this, the Torah says Moshe grew up in Pharaoh’s palace, and he couldn’t help but go out and feel the pain of his fellow Israelites. The Torah uses the word “Vayigdal — And he grew up,” in two consecutive pesukim. The first passuk reads, “Vayigdal hayeled vateviehu le’bat Pharaoh — The child grew up, and [Yocheved] brought him to the daughter of Pharaoh (2:10).” This refers to Moshe as a boy who grew up. In the following passuk we read, “Vayehi ba’yamim ha’hem vayigdal Moshe vayetze el echav vayar be’sivlotam — Now it came to pass in those days and Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens (2:11).” This second growing up refers to Moshe as a man who saw his fellow Israelites suffer and felt their burdens, just like his growth from boy to youth. We use the term gadol in two distinct ways. A child is considered a gadol when he is old enough to be counted in a minyan, and an adult is considered a gadol when he has matured to the point of empathy, where he can feel the pain of a fellow Jew. Moshe’s Compassion In describing the attributes and greatness of Moshe Rabbenu, the Torah does not dwell at length on his background. It does however describe four incidents, all of which reveal his sensitivity to his fellow Jews. First, he left the comforts of the palace to witness suffering of his Israelite brothers. Then he saw an Egyptian beat a Hebrew slave, and so he killed the Egyptian. Next, Moshe saw two Israelites fighting and involved himself in order to make peace between them. And lastly, the Torah tells the story of how Moshe came to the rescue of Yitro’s daughters, who were being attacked by foreign bandits at the well. Throughout Moshe’s life, we read about his sensitivity and empathy. As Moshe was shepherding his sheep, he was concerned for them and chased after a small stray sheep. This led him to the burning bush, where Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him that He wanted him to lead B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt. As much as Moshe wanted to help the Jewish nation, he refused Hashem’s request. After some deliberation, we find out that the reason for his refusal was because he didn’t want his older brother Aharon to feel bad. He continued to debate with Hashem and did not give in until Hashem finally assured Moshe that his brother Aharon would be happy in his heart for him. We must learn from Moshe that we are obligated to have an extra sense of compassion for our Jewish brethren. We must help them by shouldering their burdens, in addition to helping them with money. Rabbi Diamond often says that we all have the same DNA as Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov: the DNA of chesed and compassion. Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was a gadol hador known not only for his encyclopedic knowledge and ability to posek halacha, but also for his sensitivity, generosity and compassion for the Jewish people, which followed in the footsteps of Moshe Rabbenu. For many years, the local grocery store in Reb Shlomo Zalman’s neighborhood was run by a widow. To operate such a store consumed every ounce of the woman’s strength. Delivery vans would pull up at dawn and the truckers would deposit crates of milk and dairy products on the sidewalk. Later, the widow would drag them inside when she opened the store. One day, to her delight, she saw that the crates had been placed at the front entrance, considerably easing her workload. This phenomenon recurred the following morning and continued day after day. One morning, the widow felt that she should thank the drivers personally, so she made a point of arriving at the store very early. However, to her amazement, when the vans appeared, the men deposited her delivery on the edge of the sidewalk as they had always done in the past. Perplexed, she stood hidden on the pavement wondering how the heavy crates had transported themselves to her door, when suddenly the figure of Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach appeared, tefillin bag under his arm. One by one, he lifted the heavy crates, deposited them in front of the grocery store, and hurried off to shul. This is the kind of empathy and compassion we should strive to have. Raised as a Prince Rabbi Frand brings down a chidush from Ibn Ezra, who speculates that the reason Hashgacha brought Moshe to the palace was to create a future leader of Israel who would be raised in an atmosphere of royalty and power, rather than in an environment of slavery and submission. If Moshe Rabbenu had been raised as a slave, it would have been much more difficult for him to become the leader of two million people. Someone brought up in the house of the king, believing he is a prince, automatically possesses a certain aura and confidence that allows him to intervene in situations that people with less self-esteem would certainly avoid. For instance, the Ibn Ezra mentions that if he were raised as a slave, Moshe never would have had the forcefulness to kill the Egyptian when there was injustice. He also never would have taken it upon himself to intervene with Yitro’s daughters. Although, Rabbi Frand comments, one need not be raised as a prince in order to achieve greatness. Rav Bergman comments in the Shaare Orah that the marriage of Amram and Yocheved is described with the enigmatic words “And a man from the House of Levi went and he married the daughter of Levi (Shemot 2:1),” to indicate that Moshe’s parents were left anonymous to stress that lineage is not what made Moshe who he was. Every child and every human being can reach great heights despite a humble lineage. May we all remember that we are just guests in the countries that we live in today, and that we are not at home until we are all settled back in our real homeland — Eretz Yisrael. Also, we must understand that our own growth will occur when we feel the pain of our fellow Jews as we learned from Moshe Rabbenu and our gedolim of today. May we begin many new chapters and be redeemed from galut, being zocheh to reach great heights and have the shechina connect with us again! Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:

  • Do we have the strength to stand up for what’s right like Yocheved and Miriam, and only fear Hashem?

Summary:

  • Sefer Shemot is also called The Book of Exile and Redemption, because it begins with Galut Mitzrayim and ends with the building of the Mishkan after B’nei Yisrael receives the Torah at Har Sinai.

  • Antisemitism tends to be at its worst when we begin to assimilate into a country’s culture. We were guests in Egypt and so many other countries throughout history, and today we are still guests in America.

  • Yocheved and Miriam feared nothing and no one, because they answered to a Higher authority, Hashem! They saved the Jewish babies and preserved the future of the kohanim and leviyim.

  • A person is considered a gadol when he has matured to the point where he can feel the pain of a fellow Jew and can listen to his problems. Moshe had immense compassion for the people of the Jewish nation, and the Torah says of him, “Vayigdal—And he grew up.”

  • Although Moshe received his leading capabilities from being raised as a prince in a palace, nevertheless, his parents’ names are kept anonymous to stress that anyone can achieve great heights even from a humble lineage.


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