This may sound a bit weird, but you know that feeling you get when you are away from home for a long time and you find yourself for the first-time getting into your “comfortable” clothes and sitting in your favorite chair? Or when you go to your favorite pizza place and eat that perfect slice that you haven’t had in ages? Or when you get to spend some time with that friend whom you just never seem to see enough? It is a feeling of anticipation, of joy, of familiarity; and yet you often notice something you hadn’t seen before. This is how I feel each year as we start to read the Book of Exodus.
I have been studying Torah, in a serious way, for around 30 years now and for a reason I cannot quite explain, the Book of Exodus is the piece of Torah that excites me the most. Perhaps it’s the epic nature of the central story. It tells of the advancement of the underdog, it teaches the importance of freedom, it shows us a nation forming, it exalts in the revelation. Or maybe it is that it essentially tells the story of the love of God for a particular people. Whatever the reason, my attachment to this Book of the Torah is visceral.
I am moved this year by the way the book begins. It lists the names of Jacob/Israel and his twelve sons. We already know them and, yet, we are given the names again. Indeed, the Rabbis call the Book of Exodus, “Shemot”, “names”. But why?
I think it is because we are about to shift to a big story that will shift the history of the Israelites. The Book begins by reminding us (and maybe the enslaved Israelites) where the Israelites came from. The Torah is saying: “You will be moving on, but you are forever connected to your past.” It is an important part of the story and it is an important part of who we are. I will be discussing more about this tomorrow at Kabbalat Shabbat services at 6:00.
You will recognize most of it. It is relatively long, so you don’t have to read all of it. After you are done, look at my questions below. Extra credit to anyone who sends me an answer.
1) Why are we given a genealogy at the very beginning when we just had one two weeks ago in Parashat Vayigash?
2) Why did the Children of Israel multiply so quickly?
3) How is it possible that Joseph was forgotten by a new Pharaoh?
4) Did the Children of Israel do anything wrong to make the new Pharaoh suspect that they might be a problem in the future?
5) How is it that the Israelites kept growing stronger even after they were being harassed and enslaved?
6) Who are Puah and Shifrah? And are they Hebrew midwives, or midwives to the Hebrews?
7) Is Pharaoh unbalanced? A midwife’s job is to bring life into this world. How likely would she be to kill the baby that she just birthed?
8) How were the midwives rewarded by God?
9) Who is commanded to throw the male babies into the water and whose babies are being thrown in?
10)What is it that Moses’ mother sees that enables her to come to the conclusion that Moses was “good”?
11)Have you noticed that all of the heroes in the first part of this story are women? (The midwives, Moses’ mother, Moses’ sister, Pharaoh’s daughter)
12)How did Pharaoh’s daughter know the baby in the basket was a Hebrew baby?
13)How old was Moses when his mother brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter?
14)Did Moses know he was a Hebrew when he killed the Egyptian who had beaten the Hebrew slave?
15)Why did the Hebrews who were fighting the next day chastise Moses instead of thank him?
16)How long did it take Moses to get to Midian?
17)Is it funny that after Jethro learns that an Egyptian (Moses) has come to the aid of his daughters, that he tells his daughters to bring Moses so he can eat bread? (Given the fact that by the end of this story everyone will be eating Matzah).
18)The Hebrews were slaves for a very long time. Why did it take God so long to heart their moaning and to remember the covenant with Abraham Isaac and Jacob?
19)Why was there a fire in a thorn bush?
20)Why is it that Moses notices the bush?
21)Why does God call Moses’ name twice?
22)Why does God require Moses to take off his shoes?
23)Why does God choose Moses?
24)Why does God need Moses, or anyone else for that matter?
25)Why does Moses initially reject the task that God sends him on? (I know what he says in the Text, but how does one say “no” to God?
26)Why does Moses need to have a name for God?
27)What is the deal with God’s name, “I am that I am”, or, “I shall be what I shall be”?
28)God tells Moses to go to the Elders of Israel and tell them that God sent him. If you were the Elders of Israel, what would be your reaction to this statement from the former prince turned murderer, turned runaway?
29)What is God’s problem with Pharaoh?
30)Why does God make Moses take the staff and turn it into a snake? Why doesn’t God just do this Himself?
31)What is the staff?
32)Why does Moses claim to be slow of speech?
33)Why does God get angry with Moses when Moses asks God to send someone else?
34)Why is Aaron necessary to the story?
35)Why does Jethro let his son-in-law leave without even a little argument?
36)We have read many stories about the First born son bowing to the younger son. Why does God refer to Israel as His first-born son?
37)If you were the Hebrews and Moses’ and Aaron’s actions made your life harder, how would you feel about Moses and Aaron? How would you feel about the God who sent them?
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Michael S. Jay