Parashat Shemot
Mevarekhim Hahodesh
January 20-21, 2017 – 23 Tevet 5777

Annual (Exodus 1:1-6:1): Etz Hayim p.317-341; Hertz p. 205-224
Triennial (Exodus 1:1-2:25): Etz Hayim p. 317-326; Hertz p. 205-213
Haftarah (Isaiah 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23): Etz Hayim p.342-346; Hertz p. 225-228


Position, Power, Perks and Platitudes
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, Bible Faculty, the Conservative Yeshiva

How many leaders should write that as their job description?  Rashi, the French medieval commentator, uses this Parashah to takes us along for a brief study in leadership do’s and don’ts.

Moshe was a shepherd before God assigned him the position of leadership at the burning bush.  The inspiring nature of the desert, combined with the responsibility of caring for living creatures, might be a good start for a leader who will take a people through the wilderness and deliver them the Divine Torah.  But Rashi saw this also as an example of Moshe’s ethics.  He suggests that Moshe took his flock to the far end of the desert to avoid the slightest risk that they might graze off others’ property.  It would not be a large embezzlement scandal, only a little ‘who will notice?’ theft. But even that Moshe went to great lengths, literally, to avoid.  Bad ethical habits would be a poor start for a leader.

Moshe then returned to Egypt per God’s instructions “I shall send you to Pharaoh and take my people… out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10).  Testing the message with his own people, Moshe and Aaron gather the elders (the z’keinim), the leaders of the nation, and deliver God’s words.  The people believe, the response seems positive (4:31).

“After that Moshe and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh: ‘So said the Lord, God of Israel, let My people go so they may do a pilgrimage for Me in the desert’” (5:1). This time it is a complete failure.  They are booed out of the palace, with the labor conditions of the nation worsened to boot.

Where were the elders at that critical moment?  So wonders Rashi.  Would the result not have been better if the known leadership of the people had joined Moshe and Aaron, presenting the demand in a unified manner, as God had said they would (3:18)?  Rashi answers (Ex 5:1, where no mention is made of the elders): ‘the elders dropped away one by one…’ (in the vernacular: ‘So sorry!  I just remembered that I have a previously scheduled appointment.’)  Leaders, who enjoy their status for the honors and perks, while shirking taking risks to advance change and correct injustice, are not a recent phenomenon.

But, Rashi tells us, there were other leaders among the people of Israel: the shotrim, the Israelite officers whom the Egyptian task-masters appointed to supervise the work of the Israelite slave laborers.  When the slave laborers fell short of their labor quotas, the shotrim were supposed to penalize them.   But, Rashi explains (5:14), the shotrim suffered the penalty from the task-masters themselves, without passing it on to those below them.

What happened to these two groups of leaders?  The elders continued enjoying their lofty positions until God’s revelation at Sinai (Ex. 24).  At the grand ceremony, as Moshe was about to go up the mountain, they were left behind.  Those who did not dare face a human king are not welcomed by the King of Kings.  And the shotrim, who suffered to protect their brethren? When Moshe feels the loneliness of the burden of leading the people (Num. 11), God tells him to appoint 70 leaders to help him.  Rashi suggests that those leaders were the shotrim. They had proven that their dedication was to the interests of their people, not to themselves (Rashi on Num. 11:16).

A Vort for Parashat Shemot
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The Midrash suggests three ways by which Moses may have smitten the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew (2:11-12).  One said with the fist (egrof), the second said with a rake (magrefa), and the third said with God’s name (shem mefurash).  The Avnei Ezel (attributed to Alexander Zusia Friedman [1897-1943, Poland, killed by the Nazis], editor Mayana shel Torah), says some think we can defeat our enemies with force, a strong military. Others think that we will prevail through hard work and ingenious work tools (e.g., rakes then, hi-tech today).  The Avnei Ezel said that while both are important for Jewish survival, we also need the third element, faith in God and dedication to Torah and mitsvot.


Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We are opening Shmot, the second Chumash (Torah book), with the enslavement and killing of the Children of Israel, the birth of Moshe, and (many years later) God choosing him as leader of the people. Moshe’s initial attempt to convince Pharaoh to let the people go seems to end in failure.

1)  Shmot literally means ‘the names of’.  The book opens with the list of names of the children of Israel/Yaakov that came to Egypt (1:1-5).  Why do you think that this book, that tells the story of the slavery and Exodus, chooses to open with this?

2)  Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, tells his people ‘behold, the nation of the children of Israel is greater than/from us’ (1:9). The Hebrew word ממנו (mimmenu) can be read as either ‘than’ or ‘from’.  It is difficult to assume that the children of Israel had outnumbered the Egyptians (greater than us), so what classic anti-immigrant argument is Pharaoh using (greater from us) to turn the local population against the immigrants?

3) The birth of Moshe (Moses) is told in 2:1-10.  The Torah seems to deliberately avoid giving names of the people involved. Only v.1 and v.10 contain names.  Whose names are mentioned? What does it tell us about Moshe’s identity?

4)  God opens his conversation with Moshe by appearing in a burning bush
(3:2-4). Why do you think that God chooses this setting?  What do you think is the significance of Moshe approaching the bush to find out why it is not consumed by fire?

5)  After Moshe and Aaron demand of Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go for 3 days to worship the Lord, Pharaoh does not only refuse, but changes the work pattern for the enslaved people (5:4-9).  What are the new rules?  What is the reason that Pharaoh does this? Do you think that this is an effective way of achieving this goal?  Why?