For those of you who are unfamiliar with rabbinic Judaism - which is not a subject I address in a midrash very often -the central text of their writings is known as the Talmud. I am also not a supporter of studying the Talmud simply because its authors believe they have the authority to change or annul Y-H-V-H’s written law - His Torah. That being said, one occasionally hears or reads something from the Talmud that is true. It is also true that just as often what truth is contained in the Talmud often either misunderstood or simply ignored. For instance, there is a rabbinic teaching that states, If there is a conflict between the words of the Master (Elohim) and the words of a disciple (a man), the words of the Master must prevail.1 This is a undeniable truth, well established by both Y-H-V-H and our Messiah. Rabbis teach this to their students even as they assert man’s authority and man’s laws are above those of Y-H-V-H Elohim -totally ignoring what they had just said.
Some years ago I was surprised to learn that I had been raised in a denomination that did exactly the same thing - just as some of you were. I mention this in order to establish the importance of studying Y-H-V-H’s Word, not just giving His word a cursory reading before moving on to what man believes is true and teaches about His Word. We must not make the mistake of talking about the importance of Yah’s Word and then ignoring what He says. And this doesn’t apply to just His commandments, statutes and ordinances. It applies to every word, every narrative and every situation in the Tanakh.
We want to keep this in mind as we begin studying Sefer Sh’mot, which is the book of Exodus in English bibles. Sefer B’reshith spanned approximately 2500 years, but Sh’mot covers a much shorter time span and can be divided into five sections:
Chapters 1-17: tell the story of the Exodus
Chapters 18-24: the arrival at Mount Sinai and receiving the Torah
Chapters 25- 31: the commandments regarding the Mishkan
Chapters 32-34: the chet egel (sin of the golden calf)
Chapters 35-40: the construction and dedication of the Mishkan
The first par’sha of Sefer Sh’mot shares the same title: Sh’mot, which means names. Par’sha Sh’mot spans Sh’mot 1.1. through 6.1 and begins the saga of the Hebrew’s exodus from slavery along with a mixed multitude from the nations that decided to join them. Beginning in the second chapter of this week’s par’sha and continuing to the end of the Torah, Mosheh is one of the central characters. He is the man Yah chose to lead the Hebrews during the Exodus and the subsequent forty-year journey through the wilderness. He is not, however, the only hero in this our studies this week. Par’sha Sh’mot also introduces some other courageous people, including some of the most courageous women in the Torah. As the story unfolds we want to pay close attention to the people, their actions, as well as the circumstances surrounding them. As we do, an important lesson begins to emerge.
As Sh’mot opens we are reminded that when Ya’akov and his eleven sons first came into Mitsrayim they numbered only seventy beings. This changed over the years as they were fruitful and increased very much, multiplied and became very strong, and the land was filled with them.1.7 Eventually the day came when the Mitsrites recognized the Hebrews outnumbered them and were stronger than they were. Pharaoh issued orders for taskmasters to be appointed over the Hebrews; a people who had once been honored guests in their land.
In an attempt to curtail their growth, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill every male child born to the Hebrews. The text of this passage is a little ambiguous. It could be interpreted to mean that the midwives were also Hebrews or it could be interpreted that they were women from a different, perhaps even Mitsrayim, assigned to the Hebrews. Whatever the case, these two midwives, Pu’ah and Shiphrah, refused to obey the Pharaoh’s order.
Two women, common midwives, but they had the courage to defy the most powerful man in the world and in doing so saved the lives of the sons of the Hebrews. These two women feared - or loved - Elohim more than their own lives. They loved the Hebrew babies more than they feared Pharaoh. Their willingness to risk their lives helped the Hebrew people to increase and become very numerous1.20 and in return, Elohim was good to the midwives. He provided households for them: not just homes, but households.
We are next introduced to a couple: a man from the house of Levi who married a daughter of Levi.2.1 We don’t learn their names until later, but they were Amram and Yokeved6.20 (2). What we are told is that they had the courage to have another child even though, if it was a son, they knew the danger involved. They not only gave birth to a son, they protected him as long as possible before trusting Y-H-V-H and putting him in a place where they hoped he would be rescued, which he was. It seems courage ran in this family.
Mosheh’s sister, Miryam, watched over him after leaving left him in a basket along the river. Though a slave herself, Miryam didn’t hesitate to approach Pharaoh’s daughter on behalf of her brother. This young slave-girl dared to speak to Pharaoh’s daughter and asked about bringing a Hebrew woman to nurse the child she had discovered in the reeds along the river.
And, of course, there is Pharaoh’s daughter herself and once again we are not given her name. Years later the author of Dibre haYamim recorded a daughter of the Pharaoh whose name was Bithyah and many scholars believe this may have been the daughter of Pharaoh who rescued and raised Mosheh.3 She was a princess of Mitsrayim - and yet she willingly defied her father’s command to save the life of a Hebrew baby. But she did more than just rescue Mosheh, she adopted him as her own son.
Over the next several months Mosheh’s life will be a central part of our studies, but we can already see Mosheh’s courage - and his humanity. He killed a Mitsrite guard for striking a Hebrew, after making sure no one would witness what he was going to do. The next day he learned that the story was out and that Pharaoh was sought to kill him and he fled to Midyan. There he came to the rescue of Yithro’s seven daughters, eventually marrying one of them, Tsipporah, settling in the land and beginning his family. Until Y-H-V-H appeared to him in a very special way and sent him back to Mitsrayim.
Mosheh agreed, but not before arguing his case about not being qualified to lead the Hebrews in the Exodus from the land. After establishing He had come down to deliver His people3.8 and that Mosheh would be able to accomplish their deliverance because He was with him3.12, Y-H-V-H mentions another group of very brave people. In the closing verses of chapter three, Y-H-V-H tells Mosheh that He is not only going to deliver His people, but that they when they left the land, they would not go empty-handed.3.21 Then, in verse twenty-two He tells Mosheh that every woman shall ask from her neighbor and from the stranger in her house, objects of silver, and objects of gold, and garments.
Notice who the women were to ask for the silver, gold and garments: her neighbor and the stranger in her house. Stranger in her house is translated from mig’ga’rat מִגָּרַת. The shoresh of this word is a term some of you are familiar with: ger גור4, referring to a person sojourning among the Hebrews and learning their ways, presumably with the intent of becoming a part of them. Based on this understanding it appears that there were people from the other nations, possibly even from among the Mitsrayim, living among the Hebrews which may also explain who the mixed multitude were that accompanied the Hebrews at the Exodus. These strangers recognized the truth of the Elohim of Avraham, Yitz’chaq and Ya’akov so much so that they were willing to join themselves to a group of slaves, suffering whatever consequences that may have brought upon them.
And we must not forget Aharon, Mosheh’s brother. He was a slave in Mitsrayim, meaning he was not free to come and go from the land as he pleased. And yet, when Y-H-V-H told Aharon to leave go meet his brother at the Mountain of Elohim4.27, Aharon went. He also returned with Mosheh - returned to the land of his bondage in order to accomplish Y-H-V-H’s will.
And what of the courage of Tsipporah? A daughter of a priest in Midyan married to a Hebrew who had escaped the wrath of the Pharaoh. Now she, her husband and her son were going back into the same land. To make things worse, Mosheh had not honored the covenant of Avraham and now Y-H-V-H sought to kill him. In order to save her husband’s life, she had to assume her husband’s responsibility and circumcise her own son.
One could argue that Mosheh, a direct descendant of Aharon, had a special calling on his life and that Y-H-V-H had taken a special interest in him. And Mosheh had argued that he wasn’t qualified to lead the Hebrews, but Y-H-V-H had insisted on using Mosheh, though He agreed to allow Aharon to assist him. Hebrew scholars point out that not feeling qualified to do what Y-H-V-H is asking of you is one of the signs of a good leader.
And after all, Mosheh was a Levite, but then so was Aharon - and Miryam - and Levites are special, aren’t they? They are the kohanim of Isra’el. This certainly sounds like the basis of a good argument that Mosheh was special and received special treatment from Y-H-V-H - until you recall the words Y-H-V-H spoke to B’nei Isra’el at Mount Sinai: and you shall be to Me a reign of priests and a set-apart nation.19.6
Priests is translated from kohanim, from the shoresh kohen כהן. Kohen means to serve as a leader or to influence people to satisfy Yah’s will. It is used in B’reshith 14.18 where we read, And Malki-tsedeq sovereign of Shalem brought out bread and wine. Now he was the priest (כֹהֵן) of the Most High El. Since Levi had not yet been born, it is safe to say that Malki-tsedeq was not a Levite, so what does it take to be a kohen of the Most High El?
You don’t have to be a Mosheh, or an Aharon, or even a Miryam. You could be a princess or a midwife; a Amram or a Yokeved; a wife, a mother, a Hebrew or a stranger grafting into the people of Isra’el. All you have to be is yourself, refusing to give into fear or intimidation, serving Y-H-V-H and influencing others to satisfy Y-H-V-H’s will. Let me - and the stories of the heroes we’ve studied today - encourage you to step out and become a part of Y-H-V-H’s kingdom of kohanim. You start by becoming one of His set-apart people, honoring and guarding the same laws He honors and guards. You begin by remembering the teaching of the sages: If there is a conflict between the words of the Master (Elohim) and the words of a disciple (a man), the words of the Master must prevail.
18 Tevet 5775
10 January 2015
1 Kiddushin 42b
2 Yokeved was Amram’s aunt - his father’s sister
3 Dibre haYamim Alef 4.18
4 Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, pg. 38, #7