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   by Jacob Solomon

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Who said to whom, and under what circumstances?

(a) Come, let us deal wisely with them.

(b) They are quick in giving birth.

(c) The matter must have become known.

(d) An Egyptian man saved us.

(e) I know that Pharaoh will not let you go.

(f) You will empty Egypt [of its wealth].

(g) I am not a man of words.

(h) I am going to kill your firstborn son.

(i) You are lazy!

(j) Why have you done evil to this people?


(a) Pharaoh to the Egyptians (1:10), in reacting to the growing increase in the Israelite population within his country.

(b) The Israelite midwives to Pharaoh (1:19 - see also 1:15), in explaining why they did not kill male Israelite births, as he ordered. They excused themselves with the claim that these mothers would give birth before their arrival.

(c) Moses to, it would appear, himself (2:14), - about his killing of the Egyptian, after that news was relayed back to him by the two quarreling Israelites.

(d) Jethro's daughters to their father (2:19 - see also 18:1), in replying to his surprise at their early return from their water-drawing duties.

(e) G-d to Moses (3:19), in commanding him to communicate to the Israelite elders the news of the forthcoming redemption from Egypt. Only after Divine chastisement, G-d told Moses, would Pharaoh finally release the Israelites.

(f) G-d to Moses (3:22), in assuring him that the Israelites would not depart from Egyptian slavery empty-handed.

(g) Moses to G-d (4:10), in responding to His charge that he should communicate the substance of His promises of redemption to the Israelite leaders.

(h) G-d to Moses (4:23), in ordering him to warn Pharaoh of the consequences of his refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt.

(i) Pharaoh to the Israelite overseers (5:17), after they complained to him about having to impose increased quotas of forced labor.

(j) Moses to G-d (5:22), after being heavily condemned by the Israelite overseers for making their living conditions deteriorate even further.


From where, according to Rashi's commentary, may the following teachings and values be derived?

(a) Those that merely threaten unjustly are deemed to be evil people.

(b) Communal harmony promotes the Redemption.

(c) A person should show the greatest respect for the property of third parties, even though his own work may suffer.

(d) G-d is with His people in times of trouble.

(e) It is worthy to avoid stereotyping people, and to give them the benefit of the doubt.

(f) Personal humility is a very positive personal attribute.

(g) Poverty is as bad as death.

(h) Jacob's taking the birthright from Esau was the right thing to do.

(i) One must take great care to perform a positive commandment as soon as possible.

(j) Those who take the burdens of the community are worthy to lead them.


(a) Moses demanded of the quarrelling Israelite: 'Why do you strike your neighbor?' (2:13) Following the Talmud (Sanhedrin 58b), the words 'you strike' are written in the future - meaning that no blow was actually struck, but that he took the threatening position of being about to strike a blow. As that was enough to earn him the title of 'the wicked person' (ibid.), it may be inferred that those that merely threaten unjustly are deemed to be evil people.

(b) The words 'the matter must have become known' (2:13 - following Talmud Sanhedrin 58b) mean that the spiritual reason for the Israelite suffering in Egypt was that they could not live in harmony with one another - exemplified in the incident of the two quarrelling Israelites. That may imply the importance of peace as a spiritual gateway to Redemption.

(c) This may be illustrated through Moses' conduct as a shepherd in the employment of Jethro, his father-in-law. The text states that he led the sheep 'behind, in the desert'. (3:1) Following Ex. Rabba, that means that Moses took the trouble to go out of his way to lead the sheep to unowned pasture, even though it was of inferior property - so as not to be guilty of theft.

(d) G-d appeared to Moses though the humble bush (3:2), symbolizing the then lowly state of the Israelite people at that time. The fire - representing the persecutor - was burning, but the bush's miraculously surviving intact demonstrated the Divine protection G-d was giving to the Israelites. (Ex. Rabba 2:5 - see also its development in Rashi's comment to 3:14 and in Ex. Rabba 3:6)

(e) The first sign that G-d demonstrated to Moses for performance in front of the Israelite elders involved a serpent (4:2 - following Ex. Rabba 3:12) - a strong hint of Divine rebuke in reply to his words: 'They will not believe.'

(f) G-d assured Moses that Aaron would give him assistance in being his communicator. As Aaron was Moses' elder brother, this support in the clearly subordinate role illustrated his personal humility. The merit of that very positive personal attribute (4:14. Talmud Shabbat 139a) was behind his eventual elevation to the position of High Priest and his wearing of the breastplate.

(g) When G-d told Moses to return to Egypt, he related that his enemies in that country 'had died' (4:23). The Talmud (Nedarim 64b) brings the background that those individuals included Datan and Aviram (Num. 16:1). They were not dead, but according to tradition they had sunk into poverty, and so they were as good as 'dead'.

(h) The words: 'You shall say to Pharaoh that Israel (Jacob's G-d-given name) is my firstborn son' may be read as G-d's confirmation of Jacob (and the Israelite nation) as His firstborn in place of Esau. See Gen. Rabba 63:14.

(i) The Talmud (Nedarim 31b-32a) understands the very obscure passage of 4:24-6 as follows. G-d wanted to kill Moses because, en route to Egypt, he became liable to circumcise his second (baby) son, Eliezer (18:4). On Moses' spiritual level, the slight delay caused by his over-concern about the overnight accommodation was enough to draw G-d's censure.

(j) The text (5:14) states that Pharaoh's officers beat the Israelite taskmasters as they did not press the Israelite slaves sufficiently to meet Pharaoh's new quotas. As they suffered on their account, they became worthy to form the 'seventy elders', (Num. 11:16) who, guided by Divine prophecy, would assist Moses in directing the Israelite nation. See Sifrei Behaalotcha 92.


1. How does the Ohr Hachayim understand Pharaoh's declaring that the Israelite nation were too great 'mimenu' (1:9)?

2. 'G-d saw the Israelites; and G-d knew.' (2:24) What did He see and know according to (a) Rabbeinu Bachya and (b) the text of the Passover Hagada?

3. How does Hirsch explain the detail of 'take off your shoes... for the land on which you stand is holy' (3:5) within G-d's revelation to Moses at the Burning Bush?

4. Why, according to the Midrash (Ex. Rabba 3:4), did Moses react to G-d's order with 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and ... bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' (3:11)

5. How, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, does G-d's reply to Moses: 'Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh' (6:1) relate to the situation of the Israelites in his (and in our) day?


1. According to the Ohr Hachayim, the force of the word 'mimenu' is used by Pharaoh to convey to his people that the Israelites' prosperity in Egypt was 'mimenu' from us - at our, the host society's, expense.

2. According to Rabbeinu Bachya 'G-d saw the Israelites; and G-d knew', means that He took heed of the many private indignities and humilities that the Israelites suffered in Egypt which were of a too personal, private, and intimate nature to be observed by others. Indeed, the Hagada states that this text refers to the way that the Egyptians disrupted family life - an intimate persecution whose real impact only G-d could know.

3. Hirsch's explanation of the detail of 'take off your shoes... for the land on which you stand is holy' is G-d's telling Moses to cease higher spiritual contemplation and 'come down to earth'. As he puts it: 'Instead of trying to find out about a phenomenon [the Burning Bush] that lies beyond your sphere, understand and devote yourself to the lofty destiny of the ground upon which you already stand.'

4. The Midrash (Ex. Rabba 3:4), derives that Moses' hesitation was based on the actual wording of G-d's command which implied that he, Moses, would effect the Exodus, as phrased on 3:10 - 'bring the Israelites out of Egypt.' He understood that he would not be relying on supernatural Divine intervention, but on his own human powers, which in his humility he believed were inadequate for the task. It was that, and manifestly not the fear of Pharaoh's revenge that caused Moses to voice his hesitation.

5. The substance of his explanation of 'Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh' (6:1) relates to the situation of the Israelites in his (and in our) day. It is at its very darkest before dawn - redemption is closely preceded by the most intense phase of persecution and despair.


1. The Passover Hagada narrative begins with 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt' (Deut. 6:21). The text of Parashat Shemot amplifies that text in detail. Indeed, it was the realization of G-d's message to Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a country which is not theirs... (see Gen. 15:13) Why did the Israelites merit such a harsh experience?

2. Which is the more correct of the two renderings of 'ehyeh aher ehyeh' (3:14): 'I am what I am' or 'I will be what I will be', and why?

My efforts at tackling the issues raised in #1 and #2 may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Shemot for 5760 and 5761.

Parashat Shemot (and others) from previous years may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara


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