October 27, 2020 |

Parshat Shemot: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice [All editorializing in brackets]


And these are the names (“shemot”) of the children of Israel who coming to Egypt with Jacob (each of these came with his family):

Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher

For a total of 70 people (Joseph was in Egypt).

Joseph, and his brothers, and their entire generation passed on, as the children of Israel (from here on in: Israelites) became a vast multitude of people.

And a new king came to power who didn’t know about Joseph. He took a look at the Israelite nation [Note he calls them a “nation”] and said to HIS nation: “Look at this – there are more of them than there are of us, we’re losing the demographic war. We need to get smart here, otherwise the next time there’s a war, they will ally themselves with our enemies and leave.” [Interesting that his big concern is that they would leave, not that they would cause internal problems.]

So they set up tax collectors to make life even more miserable for them, and the Israelites built the cities of Pitom and Raamses.

But the more the Egyptians tortured the Israelites, the more they flourished, until the Egyptians got thoroughly fed up with them.

So they made their lives miserable, with any and all kinds of hard physical labor.

Then the king of Egypt told the Israelite midwives (one was called Shifra, one Pu’ah) that when they assist with an Israelite birth, they should kill the baby if it’s a boy, and only allow it to live if it’s a girl. But they were God-fearing people, and they did not follow his order.

When the king of Egypt found out, he asked them, “Why did you let the boys live?”

“The Israelite women are different from the Egyptians”, they explained. “The women deliver before we even have a chance to get there.”

So God was good to them, and the Israelites continued to multiply.

At this point, Pharaoh commanded his own people directly: “Throw all the boys in the Nile! You can let the girls live.”

A Levite man went out & married a Levite woman. She had a son, whom she hid for three months. But at a certain point she couldn’t hide him anymore, so she built an ark for him, and she set him afloat at the edge of the Nile. His sister stood and watched from afar, to see what would happen to him.

Just then, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe. She saw the ark and retrieved it. When she opened it, she saw a boy crying, felt pity for him, and realized this was an Israelite boy.
The boy’s sister came forward and suggested getting an Israelite nursemaid to nurse the boy for her, and Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, at which point she calls for the boy’s mother and offers to pay her for the job of nursing him. As the boy grew older, his mother brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as a son. She called him “Moses” meaning “I drew him out of the water”.

And so it was that Moses grew up, and started to see how his brothers were suffering. Once, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew – looking this way and that to be sure there was no one around, he killed the Egyptian and hid the body. Another time he saw two Hebrews fighting. Incredulous, he asked the offending party, “Why would you beat your own fellow?” The man replied, “And who made you judge over us? Are you gonna kill me the way you killed that Egyptian?”

Moses got scared, realizing that word had gotten out. Eventually Pharaoh himself heard and tried to kill Moses, who ran away to the land of Midyan, where he stopped at the well. [Which, after all, is where people in the Bible meet their bashert.]

Now the Midyanite priest had seven daughters, who approached the well to water their flocks of sheep. Other shepherds came and tried to chase them away, but Moses rescued them. They hurried home to their father Reu’el, who asked them what was the rush. “An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds”, they replied, “and also took care of our sheep.”

“And where is he?” he asked his daughters? How could you have left him there? Invite him in for a meal!

Moses very much wanted to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Tzipporah to him as a wife. They had a boy, whom they named Gershom, meaning “I have been a stranger in a strange land.”

Many years later, the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites cried out from the hard work. Their cries were heard by God, who remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and He knew.

Now Moses was taking care of his father-in-law Jethro’s sheep, and he came as far as Horev. There, an angel of God appeared to him in a flash of fire from within the bush. He looked – the bush was burning with fire, but it did not burn up. Moses thought, “I gotta check this out, this is quite the sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?”

God saw that he had Moses’ attention, and he called to him from within the bush: “Moses, Moses.” And Moses replied, “Here I am.”

“Don’t come any closer. Remove your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Moses at this point is hiding his face, too afraid to look directly at God.)

“I have seen how bad things have gotten with my nation, and I have come down to save them from Egypt and bring them out of that land into the good and spacious land, brimming with milk and honey.”

“I’ve seen how they’ve been tortured, and I’ve heard their cries – now I will send you to Pharaoh, and you will take the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Moses replied, “And who exactly am I, to go to Pharaoh, to take the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God: “Because I will be with you. And as a sign, as you take the Israelites out of Egypt, you will worship me on this very mountain.”

Moses: "OK, so I go to the Israelites, and tell them that their ancestral God sent me, first thing they’ll want to know is what His name is. What should I tell them?” [Remember Jacob’s question to the angel, “Tell me your name”. The angel refused, saying it was “hidden”. But this seems to be a common need.]

God answered Moses, “I’ll be… whatever. You can tell the Israelites that ‘I’ll be’ sent you to them. Actually, try this: ‘The God of your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sent me to you.’ That will be how I will be known forever more.”

“Go gather the elders of Israel, and tell them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob appeared to you, saying that He has remembered the Israelites and is prepared to bring them out of Egypt to the land flowing with milk and honey.”

“They’ll listen to you, and you can all go together to the king of Egypt, and ask permission to go on a three-day hike into the desert for sacrifices.”

“But I know that the king of Egypt won’t let you go. So I’ll smite Egypt with all my wonders, and then he’ll send you. And when they send you, you won’t leave empty-handed. You’ll “borrow” all kinds of gold and silver from your Egyptian neighbors and walk away with all of their things.”

Moses protested, “But they’re not going to believe me, and they’re not going to listen to me, they’ll just say I’m making it all up.”

“What’s that in your hand?”

“A staff.”

“Throw it on the ground.”

Moses threw it down and it turned into a snake, so Moses ran away from it.

“Now pick it up by the tail.”

Moses picked it up, and it turned back into a staff.

“Now that should make them believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really appeared to you.”

God continued: “Now put your hand inside your jacket.” Moses complied, and when he took it out it was full of leprosy.

“Now put it back inside again.” Moses again complied, and this time the flesh was returned to normal.

“Now if they don’t believe the first sign, they’ll definitely believe that one. And if after that they STILL don’t believe, take some water from the Nile and spill it on the riverbank, and when it hits the dry land it will turn to blood.”

Moses: “Please sir. I’m really not much of a public speaker, never have been. I haven’t even said much since You’ve been talking to me.”

God replied, “And who do you think gave man the power of speech to begin with? I’m God, after all. Just go ahead, and I’ll help you know what to say.”

Moses: “Please sir. Just send someone else.”

At this point God finally gets angry at Moses, and says, “Your brother Aaron is a good public speaker, isn’t he? You’ll see, he’ll be among the first to come to greet you. You can tell him what to say, and I’ll help both of you out. He can be your mouthpiece, and you can play the role of God in telling him what to say after I tell you what to say. Oh, and don’t forget the staff, you’ll need that for the miracles.”

Moses returned to his father-in-law Yeter, saying he really needed to get back to his people in Egypt, see if they’re even still alive. Yitro told him to go on ahead.

God told him that it was safe to go – the people who had tried to kill him so many years ago were no longer alive.

So Moses took his wife and his sons, and headed back to Egypt with the staff of God in his hand.

God appeared to Moses, saying, “When you go to Pharaoh, tell him that Israel is my firstborn. You’ll ask him to let My son go worship me, he’ll refuse, and then I will kill HIS firstborn.”

Meanwhile, on the way, they stopped at a rest stop where God met him and tried to kill him. Only when Tzipporah took a stone and cut her son’s foreskin, calling him a bloody husband, did God back off.

Then God appeared to Aaron and told him to go meet Moses, returning after all these years. Aaron meets him back at Horev where the two reunite, and Moses brings him up to date. Together they gather all the elders of Israel, and Aaron tells them what God has said and performs the signs for the whole nation. They believe, and the word spreads that God has remembered His people.

Then Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh asking for their three-day trip in the desert. “But who is this God you speak of – I don’t know him, and I certainly will not send the Israelites.”

“We really need to go, lest our God smite us with disease or the sword,” they plead.

But Pharaoh says, “There are a lot of you right now, and you’ve disrupted them from their work.” He then told the slave masters to stop providing raw materials for the bricks – from now on they would have to make their own bricks, without a drop in output. “They have too much free time, that’s why there’s all this talk of leaving to worship God.”

The officers of the Israelites approached Pharaoh, “Why are you doing this to us? You beat us when we can’t keep up the same output without being given the raw materials.”

Pharaoh said, “It’s because you are lazy. Now go get to work.”

On their way out, they bumped into Moses and Aaron, and they said, “God help you – you did this to us, you made us despicable to the Egyptians, and put a sword in their hand to kill us with.”

Moses returned to God, saying, “God, why did you just make things worse, why did you have to send me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh, to speak in Your Name, by the way, he has only made life worse for this nation. And you have certainly not saved your people.”

God: “You will very soon see what I will do to Pharaoh – he will soon be chasing them forcefully out of his land.”


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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Chaya Kaplan-Lester is a psychotherapist, Jewish educator and writer. She is co-founder of The Jerusalem Center for Transformative Torah and Therapy. Her "Parsha Poetry" commetaries are popular across the Jewish spectrum, and can be found weekly on the Jerusalem Post online (along with youtube video...

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