Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)


In this week’s portion, we ramp up pretty quickly to “Let my people go!” (5:1) via a set of neatly organized chapters: 

Chapter 1.  The scene is set.  The Hebrews multiply and are enslaved. Pharaoh wants to kill the Hebrew baby boys and partially succeeds.
Chapter 2. The early life of Moses. One baby boy is saved miraculously and brought up as Moses, a prince of Egypt (no, I didn’t see the movie).  He flees when his killing of an abusive Egyptian taskmaster becomes known.  He marries Zipporah, daughter of a priest of Midian and is a shepherd there, until…
Chapter 3.  The summons. The Lord appears to him in a burning bush and summons him to lead the Hebrews out of slavery.  The Lord lays out the entire plan in detail, including the fact that Pharaoh will keep refusing to release the Hebrews until after smiting them for a while, and the Hebrews will not leave empty-handed (3:18-22).  
Chapter 4.  Moses is trained and returns to Egypt.  Moses balks:  What’s Your name? why me? I can’t speak well, they won’t listen, etc., etc.  The Lord tries to reassure his protege, though we never read an explicit reason as to why Moses is chosen, and provides what we may call Biblical era Management 101, including effective communication (here, some magic tricks) to establish his bona fides with the Hebrews and Egyptians, instructions on how to deal with Pharaoh, and a staff person (older brother Aaron) to assist him in communications.   And the Hebrews listen.  For now.
Chapter 5.  The first meeting with Pharaoh.  It does not go well, the Hebrews’ workload is increased so they complain to Moses, and Moses, who apparently has not assimilated all the Lord told him in 3:18-22, wants to know why he was hung out to dry.  
The portion concludes (6:1) with a grand statement from the Lord: “You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh!”

Two items: 

First, note the large number of active women in this portion. The subterfuge of several partially blocks the will of Pharaoh:  The midwives Shifrah and Puah, the mother and sister of Moses (Yocheved and Miriam, not named here – also, some equate Shifrah and Puah with Yocheved and Miriam), and the daughter of Pharaoh (also unnamed).  Indeed, in the Midrash, Miriam is partly responsible for the birth of Moses (her parents separated because of Pharaoh’s decree and Miriam scolded them into remarrying).
Much later, in the desert, Zipporah saves Moses’s life by circumcising their son (strange textual interlude, 4:24-26).  The upcoming exodus is even described in terms of how the women will take clothing and gold and silver from the Egyptians (3:22).
And second, this year, the portion is read on Christmas Day, and I have alluded before to certain parallels in the stories of the early life of Moses and that of Jesus (mainly, in the book of Matthew).  Each is born into  an oppressed people, each escapes a government sanctioned slaughter of baby Jewish boys, and each flees his homeland until ready to come back to save their people. Of course there are a lot of differences as well.  But I just saw a very interesting article by Rabbi Allan Kensky specifically comparing the birth stories.  [ “Moses and Jesus: the birth of the Savior,” by Allan Kensky, in Judaism, Wntr, 1993  at ].  The birth of Moses is described briefly, in 2:1-3, but there’s a lot of Talmudic and midrashic lore about it.  Here are some midrashic parallels cited by Rabbi Kensky:

        1. The impending birth of each is announced to Herod and Pharaoh respectively, and both monarchs are filled with dread at the news.
        2. Amram is told that his wife will give birth to a son who will save Israel; Joseph is told that Mary’s son will be called Jesus “for he will save the people from their sins.” (It should be noted that “from their sins” may be a later gloss.)
        3. The birth of Jesus is heralded by a star; at the birth of Moses there is great light.
        4. From the start, both children are recognized as extraordinary.

Moses is seen by the rabbis of the time as the prototype of the Messiah, and it is likely that “the author of Matthew had in mind constantly the story of Moses’ birth according to the Midrashic tradition.”(Renee Bloch, cited by Kensky).

One item that is not paralleled, of course:  Moses was not born to a virgin.

A very early Shabbat shalom,



A man is out on his back porch all night wringing his hands, pacing and chewing his fingernails while his wife is in labor upstairs. Finally, near morning the midwife comes out and congratulates him on the birth of a daughter. The man exclaims “Oh, thank goodness it’s a girl so she won’t ever have to go through what I just went through!”

You Might Be A Nurse Midwife If . . . .

If your idea of “seeing the head coming” doesn’t refer to your beer…….you might be a midwife
If you talk about seeing the “crown” and you weren’t at Buckingham Palace…….you might be a midwife
If there are more ways to reach you than the local fire department…….you might be a midwife
If you know that “post partum” doesn’t mean your fence is coming apart…….you might be a midwife
If you’ve ever been called by a neighbor with a farm animal in labor…….you might be a midwife
If you know that a fetoscope does not measure shoe size…….you might be a midwife
If you know that a lie is not where your golf ball lands…….you might be a midwife
If you think that a “tail back” is a new kind of birthing position…….you might be a midwife
If you know a cesarean is not a salad…….you might be a midwife
If you think the only way to measure centimeters is by spreading your fingers…….you might be a midwife
If you get more calls from ladies with broken water than the local plumber…….you might be a midwife
If you’ve ever ran out of gas and used a breast pump and catheter as a siphon…….you might be a midwife
If you’ve ever used a speculum to put on a tight pair of shoes…….you might be a midwife
If you’ve ever put on a latex glove to remove the stuffing from a turkey…….you might be a midwife
If you think Deliverance is a childbirth movie…… might be a midwife
If you know that perineal support is not a kind of stocking…….you might be a midwife
If your realize that “breeches” are not a southern man’s trousers…… might be a midwife
If you thought the movie “Catch-22” was a story about a month in a very busy midwife’s life…… might be a midwife
If your idea of a color coordinated birthing outfit is matching the blood stains on your sweat shirt with the blood stains on your sweat pants…… might be a midwife


Bible stories when young scholars around the world retell them
[Probably from one of Richard Lederer’s collections. IGP]

The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Laxatives, Deuteronomy, and Numbers. In the first book of the Bible, Guinesses, God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off. Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make beds without straw. Moses was an Egyptian who lived in a hark made of bulrushes. Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.

Management Training

A group of junior-level executives were participating in a management training program. The seminar leader pounded home his point about the need to make decisions and take action on these decisions. “For instance,” he said, “if you had five frogs on a log and three of them decided to jump, how many frogs would you have left on the log?”

The answers from the group were unanimous: “Two.”

“Wrong,” replied the speaker, “there would still be five because there is a difference
between deciding to jump and jumping.

Management Training

An Indian walks into a cafe with a shotgun in one hand pulling a male buffalo with the other. He says to the waiter, “Me want coffee.” The waiter says, “Sure chief, coming right up.” He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee. The Indian drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the buffalo with the shotgun, causing parts of animal to splatter everywhere, then just walks out.
The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand pulling another male buffalo with the other. He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter, “Me want coffee.” The waiter says, “Whoa, Tonto! We’re still cleaning up your mess from yesterday. What was all that about, anyway?”
The Indian smiles and proudly says, “Me training for upper management position: Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, leave mess for others to clean up, disappear for rest of day.”

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1 Response to Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

  1. Pingback: Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) | Torah Portion Humor Weekly

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