Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

After the dysfunctional family shenanigans of Genesis, Exodus (in Hebrew, Shemot, “names”) begins the exciting story of an outsider who is miraculously saved from death and grows up to lead his people from slavery to freedom.  Get out the popcorn!

There’s a quick recap first, listing the names (whence “Shemot”) of Jacob and the twelve sons who came down to Egypt, who have all died.  A new administration enslaves the now too-numerous Hebrews and tries to weaken them by ordering the deaths of male newborns.  Both Egyptian and Hebrew women resist.  The Egyptian midwives Shifrah and Puah (yeah, I know we’re taught that there were the mother and sister of Moses and Aaron, but would even Pharaoh expect Hebrew midwives to kill their own? [Thanks, Rabbi B.]) lied that they could not get to the laboring women in time to kill the newborns discreetly.  A Levite woman gives birth to a boy, hides him, and finally sets him in a basket among the reeds on the bank of the Nile.  The conspiracy to save the child widens: his sister watches; Pharaoh’s daughter takes him, even though she realizes he’s a Hebrew; and the sister arranges for her mother to be the baby’s wet nurse.

The boy, Moses, grows up as a prince, then flees for his life after killing an abusive taskmaster.  In Midian, he rescues the seven daughters of Jethro from bullying shepherds at a well (there’s always a well), marries one of them (Zipporah, but it doesn’t seem to matter which), and settles down working for his father-in-law as a shepherd.  Decades later, he is summoned by a voice in a burning bush to go lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.  The whole plan is laid out for him in Ex. 3:16-22, down to the spoils they’ll get from the Egyptians.  Despite this, Moses keeps trying to get out of the assignment, for which he feels totally unworthy and incapable.  And the first meeting with Pharaoh doesn’t go smoothly, even with the help of brother Aaron and a few nifty tricks.  Pharaoh increases the Hebrews’ workload (same brick quota, but gather your own straw), so now they’re angry at their purported saviors.  Moses’ reaction is to say “What gives?!” to the Lord, who basically replies, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

The portion is filled with strong women who get things done.  In addition to those above, Zipporah saves Moses’ life by circumcising their son on the way to Egypt (strange little episode, 4:24-26).  In Egypt, the women can operate as an underground in part because they are not taken seriously and can thus fly under the radar (OK, Pharaoh’s daughter probably got away with it as a spoiled, untouchable princess).  But they also cared, took the initiative, and came up with and implemented practical solutions.  I am fortunate to come from a long line of similarly strong women, not the least my mother Lillian, about whom I’d like to share something I learned only recently.

Lillian had a close friend from Normal School (teacher training), whom we called “Aunt” Rosanna.  Rosanna’s sister Margaret recently learned that Lillian had passed away and related her fondest recollection of our mother.  In February, 1954, Margaret’s husband died.  She had a small daughter and was 4 months pregnant.  It was extremely cold, and there was snow on the ground.  Everyone expressing sympathy was concerned about the pregnancy, but Lillian thought about what Margaret needed immediately.  A few days before the burial, she asked Margaret if she had a fur coat.  She didn’t.  So Lillian took public transportation to the opposite end of the city (Southwest Philly to Tioga) and brought Margaret a fur coat and a fur hat.  That’s the type of practical, effective action initiated by the women in this week’s Torah portion.  It’s the same mindset, whether for rescuing Hebrew babies or protecting a young widow from the cold at her husband’s burial.

Shabbat shalom,


Quotes about Strong Women

A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars.
Carly Simon
A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done.

Marge Piercy
John and I were lucky because our mother was a strong woman with high expectations and a strong sense of values. She encouraged us to pursue things we were interested in and not think about what other people wanted us to do.

Caroline Kennedy
You know, there’s nothing damnable about being a strong woman. The world needs strong women. There are a lot of strong women you do not see who are guiding, helping, mothering strong men. They want to remain unseen. It’s kind of nice to be able to play a strong woman who is seen.
Ginger Rogers

Martha Washington. I think she’s done herself a disservice in history with a little cap, you know? She looks like a namby-pamby little grandmotherly type, but she turned out to be a very strong woman.
Cokie Roberts

tph Moses parting sea as baby


Some police quotes (selected)

“If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired.”
“Yeah, we have a quota. Two more tickets and my wife gets a toaster oven.”
“No sir, we don’t have quotas anymore. We used to have quotas, but now we’re allowed to write as many tickets as we want.”
“In God we trust, all others are suspects.”


The “Middle Wife” by an Anonymous 2nd grade teacher

I’ve been teaching now for about fifteen years. I have two kids myself, but the best birth story I know is the one I saw in my own second-grade classroom a few years back.

When I was a kid, I loved show-and-tell. So I always have a few sessions with my students. It helps them get over shyness and usually, show-and-tell is pretty tame. Kids bring in pet turtles, model airplanes, pictures of fish they catch, stuff like that. And I never, ever place any boundaries or limitations on them. If they want to lug it in to school and talk about it, they’re welcome.

Well, one day this little girl, Erica, a very bright, very outgoing kid, takes her turn and waddles up to the front of the class; with a pillow stuffed under her sweater.

She holds up a snapshot of an infant. “This is Luke, my baby brother, and I’m going to tell you about his birthday.”

“First, Mom and Dad made him as a symbol of their love, and then Dad put a seed in my Mom’s stomach, and Luke grew in there. He ate for nine months through an umbrella cord.”

She’s standing there with her hands on the pillow, and I’m trying not to laugh and wishing I had my camcorder with me. The kids are watching her in amazement.

“Then, about two Saturdays ago, my Mom starts saying and going, ‘Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh!’ Erica puts a hand behind her back and groans. “She walked around the house for, like an hour, ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ Now this kid is doing a hysterical duck walk and groaning.

“My Dad called the middle wife. She delivers babies, but she doesn’t have a sign on the car like the Domino’s man. They got my Mom to lie down in bed like this.” Then Erica lies down with her back against the wall.

“And then, pop! My Mom had this bag of water she kept in there in case he got thirsty, and it just blew up and spilled all over the bed, like psshhheew!” This kid has her legs spread with her little hands miming water flowing away. It was too much!

“Then the middle wife starts saying ‘push, push,’ and ‘breathe, breathe.’ They started counting, but never even got past ten. Then, all of a sudden, out comes my brother. He was covered in yucky stuff that they all said it was from Mom’s play-center, so there must be a lot of toys inside there.”

Then Erica stood up, took a big theatrical bow and returned to her seat. I’m sure I applauded the loudest. Ever since then, when it’s show-and-tell day, I bring my camcorder, just in case another “Middle Wife” comes along.


 Moses calls 911 when the bush burns.

DISPATCHER — 911 Emergency. How may I help you?
MOSES —— Uh, yeah, ah, I’d like to report a fire?
DISPATCHER — Is a structure fire or a brush fire, sir?
MOSES —— It’s just one bush.
DISPATCHER — This is a joke isn’t it, sir? Well, we’ve all had a good laugh…
MOSES —— No! There really is a bush on fire!
DISPATCHER — For the record sir, may I have your name?
MOSES —— Um, my name. My name is Moses.
DISPATCHER — Well, Mr. Moses have you tried putting the fire out yourself?
MOSES —— Well, yes, I tried… but…
DISPATCHER — But what, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— But when I did… the bush told you to take off my sandals.
DISPATCHER — Mr. Moses, I really think you need help.
MOSES —— That’s why I called you. There’s nobody around here to help.
DISPATCHER — Uh huh. So, you’re all alone.
MOSES —— Well, I’m not ALL alone. I’m a shepherd. My sheep are here. But they’re no help at all. In fact, you should smell what they did when the burning bush started to talk.
DISPATCHER — Yes, of course, the burning bush was talking. Is it talking to you right now, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— Well, actually, yes, it is.
DISPATCHER — And what is the bush saying, sir?
MOSES —— I am.
DISPATCHER — I am what, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— I am who I am.
DISPATCHER — I am who I am. Is that supposed to mean something, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— That’s the name.
DISPATCHER — The name.
MOSES —— The name of the bush.
DISPATCHER — Every burning bush should have a name. Don’t you think, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— The bush is telling me to go see Pharaoh.
DISPATCHER — Excuse me?
MOSES —— The bush is telling me to go see Pharaoh.
DISPATCHER — Well, I’m sure he’d love to see a Hebrew sheep herder with a burning bush.
MOSES —— I know Pharaoh personally.
DISPATCHER — I’m sure.
MOSES —— I could have been the next Pharaoh myself.
DISPATCHER — Well, you would have had my vote, Mr. Moses. By the way, the burning bush isn’t telling you to harm the Pharaoh in any way, is it, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— No, of course not. I just have to ask him to let my people go.
DISPATCHER — I see. Go where?
MOSES —— Through the Red Sea.
DISPATCHER — You did say THROUGH the Red Sea?
MOSES —— Yeah, then wait on the other side for further instructions.
DISPATCHER — Well, I hope the bush doesn’t keep you waiting long, Mr. Moses. It’s a barren desert on the other side of the Red Sea.
MOSES —— Forty years.
DISPATCHER — Forty years?
MOSES —— Yeah.
DISPATCHER — And what makes you think Pharaoh will let your people go on a forty year vacation, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— Once he sees me turn my walking stick into a snake he’ll be convinced.
DISPATCHER — Well, that would convince me. Do you do any other magic tricks, Mr. Moses?
MOSES —— Huh? Well! It looks like I won’t be needing a fire truck after all.
DISPATCHER — You won’t? Why not? Isn’t the bush burning?
MOSES —— Yes, it’s burning but it’s not burning up.
DISPATCHER — Well, isn’t that one for the books.
MOSES —— Speaking of books, I think I’ll include this incident in my second book.
MOSES —— Yes, I’m going to call it Exodus.
DISPATCHER — So, you’re a sheep herder and an author?
MOSES —— Listen, I’d love to tell you about it, but I have a long trip ahead of me. I have to go to the royal palace.
DISPATCHER — Well, have a nice trip, Mr. Moses. And if you don’t mind, I’ll just call ahead and warn them …eh, let them know that you’re coming. Oh, and give my best to the burning bush.

©2001 Bob Snook. Conditions for use: Do not sell any part of this script, even if you rewrite it. Pay no royalties, even if you make money from performances. You may reproduce and distribute this script freely, but all copies must contain this copyright statement. email:


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

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

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