Torah Portion: Sh’mot(Names) Exodus(Sh’mot) 1:1-6:1
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
Tonight, we study the opening Torah portion of Sh’mot/Exodus. In this first section we cover a large part of Israel’s history. We read how they started out as welcomed guests in Egypt but over time they slowly became slaves with no control over their lives. We also read of the birth of Moshe and follow his life up to the point he met Pharaoh and asked him to “Let my people go.” That request did not work out well but G-d assured Moshe He would bring the people out.
We also cover the meeting between G-d and Moshe at the burning bush on the mountain and read about the results of that meeting. During the course of reading this Torah portion we meet many people who play a big part in our story. Some are mentioned only in a few verses but all shared a common quality that pertains to my questions this week.
Let me start with the two mid-wives. They were given a direct order to kill all male babies of the Hebrews when they were born. What did they do? We read in Exodus/Sh’mot 1:15-21 that they feared G-d. You might say this was one of the first acts of civil disobedience. They did not go along with a command that they knew went against G-d’s will. They saved Moshe’s life. They were free thinkers. We will see this over and over as we continue through this portion. These mid-wives took time to consider what they should do and took responsibility.
Moshe’s mother and father had a baby even though they knew the child could be a boy and they understood the decree of Pharaoh. In Exodus/Sh’mot 2:1-2 we read where Moshe’s father went and took a wife. Remember Moshe would be their third child. They made this decision even though they knew the decree of Pharaoh to have all male babies killed. Why did they do it? Some say it was an act of defiance. Pharaoh was trying to control the Hebrew people by killing all the boy babies. This would eventually wipe out the people of Israel. Moshe’s mother and father took action to do their part in thwarting his plan. I would imagine they took some time to think about the consequences but decided to do what they thought was right.
Now we come to Pharaoh’s daughter. When Moshe’s mother could no longer hide Moshe she took a step to give him life by putting him in an “ark” and hiding him in the reeds of the river. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe and found the ark. She opened it and saw that it was one of the Hebrew children. Exodus/Sh’mot 2:5-6. As we read on in verses 7-10 we read how she took the baby and turned him over to Miriam, Moshe’s sister, and asked her to find someone to care for him until he was weaned and then return him to her. Why did she do what she did? I am sure she knew of her father’s decree so why did she not just have the baby killed? Again, she thought for herself. She did the right thing, not what society would expect her to do.
As we have looked at everyone up until now what do they have in common? They took time to consider what to do. Even when it might seem to have been a spontaneous act, what they did was based on who they were as a person, someone who took the time to consider their actions and chose to be true to self. All had a role to play in G-d’s plan for Moshe and the people of G-d. They all met that situation based on what they believed to be right.
Now we come to the main actor in our portion. Our first real glimpse of him is found in Exodus 2:11-13. In these verses we read where Moshe went out to his brothers. Evidently Moshe already had a firm grip on who he was. He knew he was a Hebrew not an Egyptian. He went out to his brothers and saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrews. Scripture says he looked this way and that way. I heard an interesting story on these words this week. Moshe took the time to consider what he was about to do, whether to act or just keep walking. Again, this bears out our thoughts so far. We should think about life, what is right or wrong, what should we as G-d’s people do in each situation we find ourselves.
Now we come to the time when Moshe fled Egypt in fear of his life. In Exodus/Sh’mot 2:16-18 he came upon the daughters of Reuel watering their sheep. They were being harassed by the other shepherds. Again, Moshe’s actions were based on who he was, not what might be expected. He could have said to himself, “This is not my business, I’m just passing through.” But he did not do that. He took the right action and, “stood up and helped them and watered their flock.”
Lastly, we come to the burning bush. Moshe saw a bush burning but was not consumed. (Exodus/Sh’mot 3:1-2.) Moshe could have kept walking. However, he turned aside. Exodus/Sh’mot 3:3. Only after he turned aside to see the bush did G-d speak to him. I think G-d was testing him to see if he was going to take that first step or not.
In Moshe’s life, as with the others we have talked about, we see people who could see further than what their eyes told them. They were able to step out and see more, to see things that they were willing to take responsibility for.
In my first question this week I asked why Pharaoh, after Moshe asked him to let the people go, put such a heavy burden on the people, making they find their own straw to make the bricks – doubling their work load? I think he wanted them so tired and so busy they would not have time to think about freedom, or about G-d. He wanted their every thought to be about work and surviving the day.
In our world today, sometimes we find ourselves just surviving. We are bombarded with things that compete for our time. We have cell phones, computers, TV, work, family, obligations, even worries. We find ourselves with little time to be quiet and think, to consider where we are spiritually or to review our day, week or even our life. Do you have time to consider if there are things between you and G-d that needs to be dealt with? It takes discipline to protect our time and live a balanced life but it is our only hope to make changes in our life. Without time to think we just go along missing opportunities G-d puts in our path. We can only see those opportunities if we are truly present in each moment with Him.
One last thought, in Exodus chapter 4 G-d turned Moshe’s rod into a serpent. This is the first time we see a serpent in scripture since the Garden of Eden. It is interesting that G-d told Moshe to pick it up by the tail. How would you normally pick up a live snake? You would definitely, out of fear of being bitten, pick it up behind the head. Why would G-d tell him to take it by the tail? I think he was showing Moshe he was all powerful, and had dominion over the snake. By faith Moshe picked it up by the tail.