Thoughts on Shemot

This week’s parasha is Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1.[i] The haftarah, following the Ashkenazic traditin, is Isaiah 27:6-28:13 and 29:22-23. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 6:1–15.

As we begin this week, consider that Aaron was three years old when Moshe was born, (cf. Exodus 7:7), which means that either he was born before Pharaoh commanded the midwives to begin killing the male babies (Exodus 1:15-16) or he was miraculously delivered as the midwives chose to trust HaShem instead of obeying Pharaoh. Regardless, it would appear that the Pharaoh who did not know Joseph (Exodus1:8), was greatly concerned about the propagation of the children of Jacob. Likewise, this new Pharaoh was not pleased with the apparent blessing of the Almighty which rested on Jacob’s descendants. Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz observes

Even though the children of Israel had resided peacefully in Egypt for many years, the king viewed them as a threat and sought to restrain them, simply because of their numerical strength. This suspicion and distrust toward the children of Israel even before they became an actual nation may be seen as the first historical account of anti-Semitism. [ii]

In other words, Jacob’s descendants had done nothing to incur Pharaoh’s animosity, nothing to cause the irrational fear that Jacob’s descendants would align themselves against him or his kingdom. But irrational fear and animosity never seems to need a valid reason to exist. Remember, in last week’s parasha, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that with Jacob’s death, Joseph would seek revenge for their actions thirty-seven years earlier (cf. Genesis 50:15). This was irrational as Joseph had explicitly released them, forgiven them, seventeen years earlier (cf. Genesis 45:4-8). Many years in the future, another king would irrationally fear the coming of another child.

Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became furious. And he sent and killed all boys in Bethlehem and in all its surrounding area, from two years old and under, according to the time he had determined from the magi.

Matthew 2:16

Like Moshe, Yeshua too was miraculously delivered from death. Moshe went into the household of Pharaoh, who by-the-way had wanted him dead. Yeshua’s parents took him by night and escaped Herod’s irrational actions by fleeing to Egypt, (Matthew 2:14). It is interesting that according to Matthew this is the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy in Hosea, 

“When Israel was a youth, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1) This was to fulfill what was spoken by ADONAI through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My son.” (Matthew 2:15)

Yet Hosea is saying so much more. “Israel as a youth” speaks about the descendants of Jacob as they grew from a family of seventy to a population that caused Pharaoh to tremble. When the narrative of Moshe and the Exodus begins, Israel is but a youth. They are not the fully established national entity they would one day become. How can Israel’s grumbling, complaining, and temper tantrums be explained any better than that of a petulant child? The fact that Hosea’s words look both back in history and forward to a future event does not detract from the significance of both events in the scripture. Scripture, like an onion, has many layers and nuances. Those who see only one meaning in the words, or who demand that only their definition is correct, do a disservice to the scriptures, as well as demean Him who caused the writers to pen the words. We need to look at the Word of God as the writer of the book of Hebrews described it,

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword—piercing right through to a separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The very fact that the word of God is alive infers that it is to be interpreted and applied afresh in each generation. Were Hosea’s words a history lesson or a promised future event? Yes and yes, and just maybe even something more as we continue on this plane of existence. As we read scripture, we need to understand not only what is being said, but why it is being said, to whom it is being said, and the context of what is being said. 

The haftarah is largely one of judgement upon the northern kingdom, though it begins with a future hope for all of Israel,

In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit.

Isaiah 27:6

The prophet says that there will come a time when Israel will “fill the face of the world with fruit.” The “fruit” for which the descendants of Jacob have been responsible is quite interesting. A cursory scan of the internet reveals that as of 2017, 203 of the 902 Nobel Prizes have gone to Jews. Aside from the numerous medical discoveries of the past, including penicillin, polio vaccine, diphtheria and tetanus antitoxin, mammogram technology, and the Heimlich maneuver, the nation of Israel today remains on the cutting edge of breakthroughs in mathematics, chemistry, computing, agriculture, biotechnology, medicine and more.[iii] Joseph, with the direction of HaShem, saved not only his family but Egypt and the known world at the time. Then came a pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Consider for a moment, what a different world we would live in today if this pharaoh was the dreamer in Genesis 41. 

One never knows what might blossom and grow from a single act of kindness or respect, nor does one know what potential harm might come from hatred, disrespect or irrational fear. Each of us needs to follow Rav Shaul’s admonition to the believers in Colossae to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society

[ii] Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, The Steinsaltz Humash,Jerusalem; Koren Publishers Jerusalem, LTD, 2018, p 286.

[iii]  lasted accessed on 27 December 2018.

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