January 1-2, 2016 – 21 Tevet 5776
Annual (Exodus 1:1-6:1): Etz Hayim p. 317; Hertz p. 206
Triennial (Exodus 4:18-6:1): Etz Hayim p. 335; Hertz p. 220
Haftarah (Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23): Etz Hayim, p. 343; Hertz p. 225
Whose Burdens are These?
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Translation, of the Bible in particular, can be a tricky business. For examples, a Hebrew word can have multiple meanings; the grammar or syntax of the languages do not always match; nuance and ambiguity are often lost in translation. So the translator must make difficult choices. The beginning of Parshat Shemot offers an interesting case
1:8 A new king arose over Egypt, who knew not Yosef. 9 And he said to his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel (עַם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) are too many and too mighty for us.
10 come, let us deal with them shrewdly (הָבָה נִתְחַכְּמָה לוֹ), lest they multiply (פֶּן-יִרְבֶּה), and in the case of war they join (וְנוֹסַף גַּם-הוּא) our enemies…11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters (וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים)
While the bolded pronouns in the Hebrew are singular (it, referring to the people in verse 9), they are translated, in Jewish and non-Jewish versions alike, in the plural, they/them, referring to “the children of Israel.” Up to now it is not significant; it is unambiguous because “the people” and “the children of Israel” in verse 9 are one and the same.
But the middle of verse 11 is intriguing: “they set taskmaster over them לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם – “in order to afflict them in their burdens; and they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Rameses.” The understanding common to all the English translations is that the new Egyptian taskmasters intensified / aggravated the burdens of the children of Israel.
But Rashi reads it differently – למען ענותו בסבלתם: של מצרים – in order to afflict “them” (literally “it,” the Jewish people) with whose burdens? The burdens of the Egyptians!!! Why does Rashi defy all the translators? Because the plural party in the Hebrew in verse 11 is the Egyptians and the singular party is the Jewish people: “And they (the Egyptians) set taskmasters… over it (the Jewish People) to afflict it (the Jewish People, again) with their (the Egyptians’) burdens. Rashi is being literal and consistent.
Now it is no longer simply a minor difference of a singular or plural pronoun with the same meaning. Whose goals and agendas become primary for Jews in a “larger” society? Rashi understood Pharaoh’s strategy. He did not start by rounding up the Jews and shipping them off in railway cars to labor camps. He was working “shrewdly,” step by step. Rashi is saying the Jews were occupied, preoccupied, with the burdens of the Egyptians – working long, hard hours, in their law firms and hospitals, in their financial institutions and their universities, pursuing, as Jews have done so well throughout history, the agenda of the nation’s Balaam said we are not counted amongst, at the expense of being Jewish. The Midrash says that it was not only Pharaoh “who knew not Yosef”, but also Bnei Yisrael; the children of Israel themselves had stopped Jewish customs and practices after Joseph died. They had immersed themselves completely and exclusively in the Egyptian culture. Clearly Jews all over the world get involved in and succeed in the broader societies of which they are a part. But we also must remember “the Jewish burdens” in our lives, the Jewish agenda, as well – Jewish education, Jewish identity, the Jewish community and the State of Israel.
A Vort for Parshat Shemot
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Pharoah’s daughter “sent her handmaid” (va-tishlach et amatah) to fetch the basket floating in the Nile (Ex. 2:5). The word amah in Hebrew can also mean “forearm.” “Handmaid” here is the pshat, the plain meaning, but Rashi also brings the Midrash: she extended her forearm and it miraculously increased several lengths so she could reach the ark with the baby Moses inside. R’ Menachem Mendel Morgensztern, the Kotzker Rebbe (19th C, Poland), said that when she extended her arm, it was clear it could not reach the ark, but when we do mitsvot, we should not do cool calculations and think logically. If we do the right thing with the right purpose, the miracle will happen.
We are opening Shemot, the second Chumash (Torah book), with the enslavement and killing of the Children of Israel, God choosing Moshe as leader of the people, and Moshe’s initial failure to convince Pharaoh to let the people go.
1) The children of Israel (=Jacob) become numerous over a few generations and Pharaoh tells his people ‘let us out-smart’ the nation Children of Israel. What does he fear that causes him to take action? Why do you think that he did not wish to act openly against them?
2) As part of his attempt to reduce the population size (and potential military threat) discreetly, Pharaoh commands the midwives to kill all male Israelites at birth. The midwives disobey, at considerable risk. The identity of the midwives is not clear from the Torah. Do you think that they were Israelites or Egyptian women? What is your reasoning?
3) In chapter 2 we are told about Moshe (Moses). Three stories are told about him as a young man (2:11-20). What do the stories have in common? What do they teach about Moshe? Why does the Torah tell us three stories? (Think about how they differ from each other.)
4) As Moshe is shepherding the sheep in the desert he comes to the Mountain of God. There he sees a burning bush that is not consumed by the fire, and his introduction to prophecy (and leadership of the Jewish people) begins. Do you think that the location received its name after the event, was known as such beforehand? If it was known as the Mountain of God, what might Moshe have been seeking there? What might we learn about Moshe before God chose to speak to him? (3:1-6)
5) Moshe raises many questions and objection to the idea that he should go to Pharaoh and take the Children of Israel out of Egypt. Among them, he claims that he is ‘heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.’ Keeping in mind that he will spend the rest of his career speaking – how do you think that we should understand this? (4:10-12)