Torah Reflections; Lessons in the weekly Torah portion and topics of Judaism, spirituality, observance and tradition

Torah Reflections from Torah Readers

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Parashat Shemot

For the week of Sat 14th Jan 2023 - כ״א בְּטֵבֵת תשפ״ג
Parashat Shemot

The Imperative for Civil Disobedience

150 years ago the author Henry David Thoreau wrote about the need for civil disobedience when governments overstepped moral and ethical boundaries. 3,000 years earlier, the first recorded incidence of civil disobedience appears in our portion of Shemot. What made the act committed by the midwives, who disobeyed Pharaoh's orders, so incredible?

Did you know that...

The midwives; Shifra and Puah, who saved the Hebrew male babies from being thrown into the river Nile, may not have been Hebrew themselves. It is incomprehensible to think that Pharaoh would have chosen Hebrew midwives to murder their own people's children. Therefore the assumption must be that they were Egyptian midwives. Either way, they are the very first documented example of civil disobedience where their form of moral courage transcends nationality and race.

In reality they were being asked to commit a crime against humanity and they refused to do this. All we know about these two courageous women is that they "feared God and did not do what Pharaoh had instructed them to." By refusing to obey an immoral order, they redefined the moral imagination of the world.

As a reward for what they did, "God made them houses." What does this mean; As midwives, they probably had no children of their own. Houses = home which = a family; so God gave them children as a reward for defining the future of humankind and specifically the birth of Moses and all that followed.

Parasha Summary

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This week we start the book of Exodus. Parashat Shemot starts with the slavery of the children of Israel and depicts Moses birth and his years living in Midian in the house of Yitro.

The Israelites are in Egypt, a new pharaoh rises, "who does not know Joseph" and he begins to oppress the Israelites. Mirriam is born and Pharaoh orders that all newborn male babies are to be thrown into the Nile river.
Moses is born and placed in a basket of reeds. Mirriam watches over the baby as the Nile river takes Moses to the feet of Batyah - the Pharaoh's daughter. Moses is then raised by his own mother, Yohevet.
Moses kills an Egyptian and is forced to flee. He ends up in the house of Yitro - a priest of Midian. Moses marries Tziporah, Yitro's daughter.
Moses encounters the burning bush and speaks to God for the first time. He is given his mission to set the children of Israel free. With signs from God he makes his way to Egypt where he is met by his brother Aharon.
Together with Aharon they confront Pharaoh with their request to let the children of Israel go free. Pharaoh refuses their request and makes the lives of the children of Israel harder by forcing them to make their own bricks. They complain that Moses and Aharon have made their lives worse. God assures Moses that his mission will be successful. 

Second Opinion

Opinions, Essays, Cultural Observances

What's in a Name?

The strength that made it possible for the Hebrews to go through the hard Exile without assimilating came from the counting and naming they received. We see from this that a name has a special power. A name is not just a way to identify someone. Your name defines your identity and the way you are in life.
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