1 - The Heschel School

Middle School
Parashat haShavua Handout
by Rabbi Dov Lerea, Dean of Judaic Studies
Shabbat Shemot
23 Tevet 5770/January 9, 2010
Torah Reading: Shemot 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Ashkenazim: 27:6-28:13 & 29:22-23
Sepharadim: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
“The Family that Studies Torah Together, Grows Together”
Place this handout on the Shabbat table, Holiday
table, or dinner table for your edification and pleasure
Candle lighting: 4:27 pm Havdalah Saturday night: 5:31 pm
‫ טז וַ יֹּאמֶ ר‬:‫ ִמ ְצ ַריִ ם ל ְַמיַלְּ דֹת הָ עִ בְ ִריֹּת אֲ ֶשׁר ֵשׁם הָ אַחַ ת ִשׁפְ ָרה וְ ֵשׁם הַ ֵשּׁנִית פּוּעָ ה‬ֶ‫טו וַ יֹּאמֶ ר מֶ ל‬
ָ ‫יראן‬
ֶ ‫ יז וַ ִתּ‬:‫בְּ ַילּ ְֶדכֶן אֶ ת־הָ עִ בְ ִריּוֹת ְוּר ִאיתֶ ן עַ ל־הָ אָבְ נָיִ ם ִאם־בֵּ ן הוּא וַ הֲ ִמ ֶתּן אֹת ֹו וְ ִאם־בַּ ת ִהוא וָ חָ יָה‬
‫יִּק ָרא‬
ְ ַ‫ יח ו‬:‫ ִמ ְצ ָריִ ם וַ ְתּחַ יֶּין ָ אֶ ת־הַ יְ ל ִָדים‬ֶ‫א עָ שֹוּ כַּ אֲ ֶשׁר ִדּבֶּ ר אֲ לֵיהֶ ן מֶ ל‬ ְ‫הים ו‬
ִ ֱ‫הַ ְמיַלְּ דֹת אֶ ת־הָ א‬
ָ ‫ יט וַ תֹּאמַ ְרן‬:‫־מ ְצ ַריִ ם ל ְַמיַלְּ דֹת וַ יֹּאמֶ ר לָהֶ ן מַ דּוּעַ ע ֲִשֹיתֶ ן הַ ָדּבָ ר הַ זֶּ ה וַ ְתּחַ יֶּין ָ אֶ ת־הַ ְיל ִָדים‬ֶ
ִ ‫מֶ ל‬
:‫א כַ נּ ִָשׁים הַ ִמּ ְצ ִריֹּת הָ עִ בְ ִריֹּת כִּ י־חָ יוֹת הֵ נָּה בְּ טֶ ֶרם ָתּבוֹא אֲ לֵהֶ ן הַ ְמ ַילּ ֶֶדת וְ ָילָדוּ‬ ‫הַ ְמיַלְּ דֹת אֶ ל־פַּ ְרעֹה כִּ י‬
ֹ ַ‫הים וַ יַּע‬
ִ ֱ‫ כא וַ י ְִהי כִּ י־י ְָראוּ הַ ְמ ַילְּ דֹת אֶ ת־הָ א‬:‫הים ל ְַמיַלְּ דֹת וַ יּ ִֶרב הָ עָ ם וַ יַּעַ ְצמוּ ְמאֹד‬
ִ ֱ‫כ וַ יֵּיטֶ ב א‬
:‫ כב וַ יְ צַ ו פַּ ְרעֹה לְ כָל־עַ מּ ֹו לֵאמֹר כָּל־הַ בֵּ ן הַ יִּ לּוֹד הַ יְ א ָֹרה ַתּ ְשׁלִ יכֻהוּ וְ כָל־הַ בַּ ת ְתּחַ יּוּן‬:‫לָהֶ ם בָּ ִתּים‬
English: And the King of Egypt said to the Israelite midwives/to the[Egyptian] midwives of the Israelites,
one named Shifra and the other, Puah: “When you facilitate the birthing of the Hebrew women and you see
them squatting on the birth-stones, if they birth a son, kill him, but if it is a daughter, then let her live.” But
the midwives feared God, so they did not do as Pharo, the King of Egypt, had commanded them, and they
allowed the sons to live. The King of Egypt summoned the midwives, and said to them, “Why have you done
this, allowing the sons to live?!” And the midwives answered Pharo, “The Hebrew women are not like
Egyptian women. The Hebrew women are like their own midwives; they give birth even before we get
there.” God blessed the midwives, while the nation increased exceedingly in number. For, since the
midwives feared the Lord, God established houses for them. Meanwhile, Pharo commanded his entire
nation: “Cast all Hebrew baby boys into the Nile, while allowing every daughter to live!”(Shemot 1:15-22)
Introduction: This opening parasha of the Book of Exodus establishes all of the fundamental biblical
themes attendant to the emerging nationhood and identity of the Jewish people. These themes include
the journey from oppression to redemption, the experience of galut/exile, the central national promise
of land by God to the emergent nation, Moses existential struggle to actively affirm his identification
with Israel even as he was weaned and raised in the heart of Egyptian culture, the prototype for the
national revelation at Sinai in the form of the revelation at the burning bush, the centrality of the
image of shepherd as leader of the Jewish people, the establishment of prophecy, and God’s
responsiveness to the people’s active turning-towards-God through prayer (God responds to human
initiative, not to human passivity.) Interestingly, the parasha was organized by the ancient rabbis with
what corresponds to chapter 1:1 through chapter 6:1. Peculiar; why include a single sentence from the
“new” chapter in the parasha? Of course, the answer is that the division of the Torah into chapters and
numbered verses was a Christian invention, as part of the western process of supplanting scrolls with
books. Books has a binding and pagination, a convenient system for locating any section within the
text. The ancient rabbis preferred scrolls. Scrolls were more pragmatic; short books could be written
at the end of a scroll. Theologically, since a scroll is circular, all parts of the content remain of equal
sanctity. When one publishes a text as a codex, or bound book, and the volume sits on a table, the
beginning pages sit literally on top of the later pages, suggesting a primacy of those pages towards the
beginning. The rabbis did not like that idea. The early Christian church fathers also had a theological
agenda; they divided sections of the Torah into chapters in ways which separated the otherwise
continuous narrative of our people. If one ends chapter 5 of our parasha where it ends, the final verse
reads, Moses returned to God and said: “God! Why have You done evil to the people?! Why have You
sent me? From the moment I went to Pharo to speak in Your name, he did only evil, but You have not
rescued us!” Of course, the next sentence balances this exclamation by Moses with God’s response,
one of hope and strength for the future: God said to Moses: “Now you shall see what I shall do to
Pharo, for through a strong hand Pharo will drive the people out, and with a strong hand the King of
Egypt shall drive Israel from his land.” What began as a statement of despair from Moses is resolved
with a statement of hope for the future, as God promises to effect the redemption of Israel from
oppression. Therefore, the ancient rabbis, of course, included that final sentence in the parasha,
ending on that note of hope for a redeemed future.
Questions for thought and discussion on the selection from the Torah reading:
1. This selection from our parasha might be the most dramatic example of biblical civil
disobedience to a political authority. Why did the midwives take such a personal risk?
Didn’t they know that Pharo could have had them executed?
2. Curious; why do you think Pharo did not execute the midwives?
3. The language is ambiguous. The Hebrew syntax allows us to interpret the sentence as
meaning either that the midwives were themselves Hebrew women, serving their own
people, or that they were Egyptian midwives serving the Hebrew. Which reading, in your
opinion, makes these women more courageous? Which is the preferred reading in your
opinion, and why?
4. The midwives feared God. Sometimes one can translate the word, yirah, as awe, which is
related to fear. How are awe and fear related? How are they different? How might you
describe the attitudes of the midwives about human life, the world, ethical values, and the
world? (For example, you could not easily argue that the midwives were people who
mostly looked out for #1!) What kind of people were they?
5. God rewards the midwives by establishing houses or homes for them! What do you think
that means?
a. For example: Rashi builds on the interpretation that the midwives were Hebrew
women. In fact, Rashi brings the Midrashic interpretation that claims that one
midwife was Yocheved (Moses’ mother!) and the other was Miriam (his sister!).
Then, Rashi quotes the midrash which claims: God established the houses of the
Kohanim, the Leviim and the Kingship through these midwives: the Kohanim and
Leviim through Yocheved (through her children), and the Kingship through
Miriam (because according to the Talmud, one of Miriam’s granddaughters
married one of King David’s forebearers.)
b. This suggests that the leadership of the Jewish people comes through the act of
being a midwife—helping others bear new life, and standing up for what is just
and right. This might be a central metaphor for leadership, in addition to the
shepherd. “Midwife” as national leader. What do you think about that?
Rashi: 1:22
,‫ היום נולד מושיען‬,‫ יום שנולד משה אמרו לו ִא ְצטַ גְ ִני ָניו‬,‫ אף עליהם גזר‬.‫)כב( לכל עמו‬
‫ לפיכך גזר‬,‫ ורואין אנו שסופו ללקות במים‬,‫ואין אנו יודעים אם ממצרים אם מישראל‬
‫ והם לא‬,‫ ולא נאמר הילוד לעברים‬,‫ שנאמר כל הבן הילוד‬,‫אותו היום אף על המצרים‬
:‫היו יודעים שסופו ללקות על מי מריבה‬
Translation: Pharo commanded his entire nation. He set decrees against them as well. When Moses was
born, Pharo’s astrologers told him that the savior of the Jewish people was just born, but they could not
identify who he was. However, they knew that his downfall would be connected to water (They did not know
that it would come about years later with the hitting of the rock.) Therefore, Pharo decreed against
everyone—including the Egyptians—to kill any baby boy born—even to Egyptians themselves! Since the
text of the Torah says that Pharo decreed against his nation, and does not specify—against the Hebrew
Questions for thought and discussion:
1. Here is a case in which a leader has such a fanatic fear, that he actually decrees
laws against his own people. Can you think of examples in which a national
leader actually does things which are terrible even to his own nation, because he
is obsessed with an enemy?
2. Rashi’s comments suggest that a leader is capable of doing terrible things to a
nation and to a people when they are convinced about the evil of another group of
people. What do you think about this idea—does it seem extreme to you, or can
you think of examples from history?
Mitzvoth in the Parashah according to the Sefer haHinuch*: There are no mitzvoth in parashat
* Sefer ha-Chinuch (‫ ספר החינוך‬Hebrew: "Book of Education") is a work which systematically discusses the 613 commandments of
the Torah. It was published anonymously in 13th Century Spain. The work enumerates the commandments (Hebrew: Mitzvot; sing.
mitzvah) according to their appearance in the Weekly Torah portion. Some scholars ascribe the authorship of Sefer ha-Chinuch to
Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235-c. 1290), a Talmudic scholar and halakhist but others disagree, as the views of the Chinuch
contradict opinions held by HaLevi in other works. This has led to the conclusion that the true author to Sefer HaChinuch was a
different Reb Aharon Halevi, a student of the Rashba, rather than his colleague.