Weekly Reading Insights

Shmot 5762

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Shmot
To be read on the Shabbat of 21 Tevet, 5762 (Jan. 5)

Torah: Exodus 1:1 - 6:1;  Haftorah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (because its opening verse parallels Ex.1:1)
Stats: Shmot contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
Shmot ranks 15 in number of verses, 14 in number of words, and 16 in number of letters

The Egyptians afflicted the Jews with forced physical labor, and decreed drowning all Jewish newborn males. Moshe was born. His mother hid him in a basket in the Nile, where he was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. One day, when already adult, Moshe killed and buried an Egyptian supervisor who beat a Jew. The next day, realizing his deed was public knowledge, Moshe fled to Midian where he married one of Yisro's daughters, Tzipporah, and they had a son, Gershom. The Jews cried to G-d because of the slavery. G-d's angel appeared to Moshe in the form of a burning bush. G-d told Moshe that he would redeem the Jews, and that Moshe should relay this to Pharaoh and to the Jews, even though Pharaoh would not agree to let the Jews go. Moshe begged G-d to appoint a messenger besides himself. G-d decided that Aharon, Moshe's brother, should be Moshe's spokesman. Moshe began his return journey to Egypt with his wife and sons. Tzipporah circumcised their second son, Eliezer, when stopping at an inn. In Egypt, the Jewish elders listened to Moshe, saw the signs, and believed in G-d's promise to free them. But after approaching Pharaoh, Moshe and Aharon were rebuked and thrown out of the palace. Pharaoh instructed to harden the Jews' labor. The foremen blamed Moshe for the Jews' misfortune. Moshe told G-d that the situation had worsened. G-d answered that in the end, Pharaoh would force the Jews to leave his land.


"These are the names of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt." (1:1)

The verse says "coming," in the present tense, rather than "who came," in the past tense. For the duration of the 210-year exile in Egypt, the Jews felt as if they had just arrived in that land. They never adopted Egyptian ways and always considered their sojourn temporary.

(Ohel Yehoshua)

"He saw an Egyptian man smiting a Hebrew man." (2:11)

Every word in the Bible has an eternal, spiritual meaning as well as a literal significance. The word "Egypt" (Mitzrayim) is linguistically related to the word for limitations and boundaries; the "Egyptian man" therefore, symbolizes the physical body, which does all in its power to gain control over the soul, the "Hebrew man."

Moses' actions teach us that when one sees a Jew in danger of losing the battle between body and soul to his lower, physical nature, one must not remain silent. The Moses in every generation gives us the strength to overcome all obstacles and save the Jewish soul.

(Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye)

"I will send you to Pharaoh, and you will bring forth My people, the Children of Israel, out of Egypt." (3:10)

The physical presence of the redeemer does not necessarily signal the redemption itself, as Moses, the first redeemer of the Jews, was physically present in Egypt prior to the actual exodus.

Likewise, Moshiach, the final redeemer of the Jewish people, will also arrive some time prior to the actual redemption and the ushering in of the Messianic Era.

(Sefat Emet)



Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

G-d said: "I have surely seen the plight of My people in Egypt." [3:7]

Why is the verb "seen" doubled? Why is "in Egypt" stressed? Surely their location is well known. The Torah may have written this phrase in order to demonstrate G-d's identification with the Jews in their suffering. Inasmuch as they were His people, He was part of their suffering.

Another reason why G-d doubles "seen" is that in addition to the suffering of the Jews which G-d had seen, He also saw that there were no more holy souls which had been taken captive by the forces of the "other side" and which were to be rescued by the Jewish people. Seeing that the exile had accomplished also this part of its function, the way was now clear for redemption. Pessachim 119 compares Egypt at the time to a pond which had been drained of fish. There was therefore no point in continuing to angle (for souls) there. Continued residence of the Jews in Egypt could only have counterproductive effects from that time on.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter

(W:13-62/Shmot )

In this week's Torah portion is the first time Moshe is mentioned. A pivotal event in the life of Moshe was his killing of an Egyptian to protect a fellow Jew. When two other Jews alluded to the event during an argument with Moshe, the verse (2:14) says: Moshe "was afraid" and said, "Therefore, it is known." The next verse states, "And Pharaoh heard…and Pharaoh wanted to kill Moshe, and Moshe escaped." If every word in the Torah is precious, why does the Torah have to mention that Moshe became afraid. His fear seems to have been irrelevant at the time, since he did not escape until later forced to by Pharaoh. If so, why does the Torah add this detail? The Midrash answers this question by saying that Moshe's fear was actually that the Jews were unworthy of being redeemed due to their lack of unity, as displayed by the threatening manner the two other Jews acted towards Moshe. This explanation is indeed true, yet, according to the straightforward meaning of the verses, Moshe's fear is described at the earlier confrontation rather than upon Pharaoh's discovery.

In his book of collected talks, vol. 36, the Lubavitcher Rebbe brings an amazing short story as an answer. When the 3rd Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, was asked to arouse divine mercy on behalf of a very ill person, the Rebbe answered "Think good, and it will be good!" This is the foundation of our having trust and confidence in G-d. Just thinking positively causes positive outcomes. This is a common Torah concept. King David says in Psalms, "He who trusts in G-d, kindness will surround him". In other primary texts (R' Bachya, Sefer Ha'Ikrim), the instructions are clear: Trusting in G-d brings His overt kindness to a person, even an undeserving one.

The Torah is teaching us that it was incumbent upon Moshe to trust in G-d that no ill would come to him as result of his protecting another Jew. In fact, it was Moshe's fear that caused, "And Pharaoh heard", and the ensuing events. If Moshe had had the required complete trust, and not concerned himself with who knew what, this would have caused only good to be revealed.

May we each remember this teaching at the right times. Let us all replace our troubled thoughts with happy ones and bring the revealed goodness in our lives! I am reminded about a conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Schneur Zalman Gafni, in which he counseled me with the verse: "Ki b'simcha taytze'u"-'With happiness you will go out'-meaning that with (an attitude of) happiness, you will go out (from your difficulties)!

Shabbat Shalom!

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