This week we begin the second book of Torah, Sefer Sh’mot. Sh’mot is Hebrew for names and is also the title of the opening par’sha we have been studying this week. The one-hundred and twenty-four verses of the par’sha span Sh’mot 1.1 through 6.1. The more I study the Torah the more I come to understand that the Torah is as much a book of lessons as it is laws. These lessons often address the consequences of not guarding Y’H’V’H’s laws, but not always - as this week’s par’sha demonstrates.
As Sh’mot opens, the four hundred years of the Hebrew’s sojourn in a land that was not theirsB’reshith 15.13 is coming to a close and so was their years of affliction. The Hebrews, who would be joined by a mixed multitude from the nations, would soon leave Mitsrayim just as Y’H’V’H had promised AvramB’reshith 15.13-14, with great possessions. One of their greatest possessions would be their freedom.
In the years following the death of Yoseph, his brothers and all that generation, the children of Yisra’el multiplied and became very strong; enough so that it caused the new Pharaoh a considerable amount of concern. Verse nine of chapter one is the first time the children of Yisra’el are referred to as a people. They were no longer just twelve tribes, they were a nation.
Yisra’el had grown stronger and more numerous than the people of Mitsrayim - and this was before their enslavement. In verse seven we are told that the land was filled with them, which has sparked some debate among Hebrew scholars. Some believe that the Hebrews only lived in the land of Goshen while others believe that the generations after Yoseph and his brothers began to spread out through all the land of Mitsrayim. While where the Hebrews lived has little affect on the events that took place at this time, it is an interesting debate.
If the Hebrews were segregated from the rest of the people in Mitsrayim and only lived in Goshen, why was it necessary for them to mark the doorposts and lintels of their homes? We also know that there were strangers - gerim - living in the homes of the Hebrews.Sh’mot 3.22
On the other hand, if they did settle throughout the land, this could be seen as a foreshadowing and a warning: a foreshadowing of the exiles to come when Yisrael would dwell among the nations (as we are today) and a warning of the dangers of assimilation. Y’H’V’H pointed out the dangers of living among the Mitsrites in the writings of Yechezqel where He declared, “And I said to them, ‘Each one of you, throw away the abominations which are before his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Mitsrayim! I am יהוה your Elohim.’ “But they rebelled against Me, and would not obey Me. All of them did not throw away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Mitsrayim. So I resolved to pour out My wrath on them to complete My displeasure against them in the midst of the land of Mitsrayim.” At some point during their time in Mitsrayim, the Hebrews adopted some of the culture and religious beliefs of the Mitsrites, something that would have been much easier if they, or at least some of them, had been living among the Mitsrites.
As Pharaoh witnessed the incredible growth and strength of the Hebrews, he brought his concerns before the people of Mitsrayim. He called on them to act wisely in regards to the Hebrews. Like other national leaders over the years, Pharaoh played on the fears of people to incite them against Y’H’V’H’s people. He told them that if an enemy were to attack, the Hebrews might join with them, fight against Mitsrayim and then leave the land. Pharaoh didn’t want to lose the Hebrews.
Their solution was to enslave the Hebrews and use them to build supply cities. What an interesting turn of events. Given their strength and numbers, I’ve often wondered why our forefathers allowed themselves to be enslaved. One possible reason may be related to something that had happened years earlier.
Years earlier it had been a Hebrew, Yoseph, that had encouraged another Pharaoh to gather in grain and store it in cities.B’reshith 41.35 This was in preparation for the seven years of famine that would follow the seven years of plenty. Now it was a Pharaoh telling the Hebrews to build supply cities in the land. Interesting. What did the Hebrews make of the Pharaoh’s decision to build supply cities in the land?
Pharaoh had additional plans for the Hebrews. His intention was to have all the male babies born to the Hebrews killed, but that plan failed as the midwives refused to participate in his plan. This led to his decree that all the sons born to the Hebrews were to be thrown into the river.
It was during this time that a man from the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi, but we are not told their names. In fact, we are not told their names until much later, in Sh’mot 6.20, long after Mosheh had been called and returned to Mitsrayim to deliver Yah’s people. The fact that we are not given their names at the time of their marriage or Mosheh’s birth should stand out like a footnote in the text, drawing our attention to an important lesson.
Mussar teachers - and the word mussar refers to ethics or standards - believe the reason for not revealing their names was to emphasize the fact that Mosheh was a normal child born to normal parents, although under some very difficult circumstances. Tradition teaches that his parents, whose names were Amram and Yocheved, were an extremely righteous couple of the tribe of Levi who were well respected among the Hebrews. By not revealing their names the Torah teaches that any child can grow to serve Y’H’V’H no matter who their parents are or are not and no matter the circumstances surrounding their birth and childhood. What makes the difference is their faith and obedience to Y’H’V’H. That is not to say that having righteous parents is not a tremendous advantage, but it is not the determining factor in our service to Y’H’V’H Elohim.
Had the Torah introduced them at the time of Mosheh’s birth some might believe Mosheh inherited some special talent or standing no available to other children. Instead, we see that he was no different than the other children of Yisrael and, as such, any child who walks in faith and obedience to Y’H’V’H can be like Mosheh.
And Mosheh did become an outstanding leader. Even more, he was a man who Y’H’V’H spoke to face to face, as a man speaks to a friend?Sh’mot 33.11 Are there certain traits in Mosheh’s life that can learn from that can help us reach a point in our lives where Y’H’V’H might speak to us as a Friend? After all, the Messiah once told His talmidim, No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all teachings which I heard from My Father I have made known to you.Yochanan 15.15 Of course, He had also just told them, You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.ibid vs. 14
What kind of traits can help us develop a stronger walk and better service with Y’H’V’H Elohim? Consider what Sh’mot chapter two teaches about the man Mosheh.
In verse eleven we are told that when Mosheh was grown, that he went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens. Despite being taken from his family at and early age and despite his privileged life in Pharaoh’s palaces, Mosheh never forgot who he was or who his people were. He didn’t let the temptations of this world cause him to forget he was a Hebrew.
In many cases, a child raised with such a privileged life tends to focus more on himself rather than others, but not Mosheh. He was more concerned with the sufferings of his brothers than his own privileged life.
Also in verse eleven we see that Mosheh’s concern was for more than just the Hebrews as a people, he was also concerned with the sufferings of individuals as well. And he saw a Mitsrite striking a Hebrew, one of his brothers. In response, Mosheh struck and killed the Mitsrite who was striking the Hebrew. Not only was Mosheh willing to risk his privileged life to be around his people, he was willing to risk it for an individual as well.
The Messiah came for the lost sheep of the House of Yisrael, but He died for each of us individually.
Next, in verse thirteen, we learn that Mosheh was concerned even when there was strife among his own brothers - not just between his brothers and people of the other nations. And he went out the second day and saw two Hebrew men fighting, and he said to the one who did wrong, ‘Why do you strike your neighbor?’
And finally we see that Mosheh defended anyone who was being oppressed by others, even if they weren’t Hebrews. After fleeing from Pharaoh and arriving in Midyan, Mosheh witnessed shepherds driving the daughters of Yithro away from the water troughs they had filled to water their sheep. When he did, Mosheh stood up and came to their rescue, and watered their flock.2.17 Rescued is translated from יוֹשִׁע, from the shoresh that means to save or to deliver ישׁע. Mosheh rescued the daughters of a Midyan priest. In fact, some teachers even point out that Mosheh was concerned with the welfare of the animals involved in this story as well.
From this we learn that it wasn’t Mosheh’s family lineage that made him a great leader, after all, with the exception of his very early months, he wasn’t raised by his Hebrew family. What distinguished Mosheh was his concern for others above himself. It was his willingness to risk his own privileged life to help and save others. In fact, when Mosheh returned to Mitsrayim, Pharaoh considered him a slave like the rest of the Hebrews. In Sh’mot 5.4; the sovereign of Mitsrayim said to them, “Mosheh and Aharon, why do you take the people from their work. Get back to your burdens.” Your burdens, not theirs. He considered Mosheh to be a slave like the rest of the Hebrews.
This willingness to help others even at great personal cost is what helped Mosheh become such a dynamic leader and a man whom Y’H’V’H spoke to face to face. If this is the relationship we desire to have with Y’H’V’H, then we must ask ourselves what we are willing to risk losing or giving up.
Mosheh was truly great among the leaders of Yisrael, but in order to be great he had to also be humble. Mosheh lead a nation of millions, but was always concerned for even the weakest among them - the widows, the gerim and the fatherless. The fact that great men must also be humble men should not come as a surprise to anyone. In one the prayers of the Siddur we read, Wherever you find mention of the might of the Holy One, blessed is He, there you also find mention of His humility. This matter is written in the Torah, repeated in the Nevi’im, and stated a third time in the Ketuvim.
So many people fail to see the humility of Y’H’V’H, but His humility is evident in Scripture.
In Torah, D’varim 10.17, we read, For Y’H’V’H your Elohim is Elohim of mighty ones and Master of masters, the great El, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. There is none greater or mightier than our Elohim, yet in the next verse we are told, He executes right-ruling for the fatherless and the widow, loves the ger (the one grafting into His people), giving him food and a garment.
In the Nevi’im, Yeshayahu 57.15, we read, For thus declares the high and exalted One who dwells forever, whose Name is set-apart and then we read that He dwells in the high and set-apart place, with him who has a bruised and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the bruised ones.
Then in the Ketuvim, in T’hillim 68.4-5 we read, Sing to Elohim, sing praises to His Name. Raise up a highway for Him Who rides through the deserts, by His Name Yah, and exult before Him - and then - Father of the fatherless and Right-ruler of widows.
The great and mighty Elohim of our forefathers, King of kings and Master of masters, never forgets the weakest or most broken of His people.
Our strength as a people, as a congregation and even as individuals is not measured just in how we face our enemies and/or the adversities of this life. It not measured just by our faith and courage, it is also measured by our humility: how we protect and care for the weakest among us. Our strength lies in our desire to be like our Father and like our Messiah.
What Mosheh such a great man and leader was his desire to be set-apart as our Father in heaven is set-apart - to be like Y’H’V’H Elohim. If you study the lives of the great men and women of the Tanakh and the Second Writings you will find they shared several things in common:
a love for the truth, which is the sum of Y’H’V’H’s Word
a faith that gave them incredible strength and courage to meet and excel in every adversity then encountered
and an undying love and devotion for people, especially the weakest and most needy.
What you will not find among them is:
petty or vain arguments about who righteous they were. They didn’t claim to be righteous men and women, they simply lived as righteous men and women. The old axiom, actions speak louder than words.
they didn’t spend their time arguing about the elementary matters of our faith, they simply walked in obedience to Y’H’V’H.
and, to borrow a line from a poem, they didn’t preach the brotherhood of men, they lived it.
Noach, Avraham, Yoseph, Mosheh, Aharon, Dani’el, Yochanan the Immerser, the Messiah’s talmidim and the Messiah Himself. If our desire is to be like, them our hearts must be like their’s as well.
Freedom, especially the freedom the penalties of sin and death, is one of the greatest gifts we have ever been given. Don’t become slaves to sin or to man again. Walk in the freedom the Messiah gave those who cling to Him and guard His commandments.
21st Tevet 5776
2 January 2016