I have not seen “Prince of Egypt,” nor do I plan to see the current Ridley Scott film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” I did see Cecil B. de Mille’s “The Ten Commandments” on TV. Thus, I am still waiting for a serious, substantive movie about the Israelites in Egypt and their deliverance. In the meantime, I’ll make do with the original text and commentaries.
The book we start reading this week is Exodus, known in Hebrew as Shemot, (“names”), and Shemot is also the name of the week’s portion, “names” because it starts with the names of Jacob and his sons who went down to Egypt. The story zips along: A new pharaoh enslaves the new generation of Israelites and schemes to weaken them by killing their newborn sons, first by trying (fruitlessly) to enlist the aid of the midwives, Shifrah and Puah, then by simply decreeing newborn boys are to be thrown in the Nile. One such newborn, placed in a pitch-smeared basket next to the Nile, is adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and, thanks to his sister’s intervention, is nursed by his own mother.
Who were these midwives, Shifrah and Puah? Traditions vary and are summarized in Nehama Leibowitz’s New Studies in Shemot, pp. 31-38. How could only two midwives have such impact? According to Ibn Ezra, Shifrah and Puah were not simply two random midwives, but were in charge of a whole network of midwives and collected taxes from them to give to Pharaoh. And were the midwives Israelite or Egyptian? Wouldn’t Israelite midwives deliver Israelite babies? But could Pharaoh expect Israelite midwives to kill Israelite babies, even at his command? The Talmud and medieval commentators Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, and Ramban (Nachmanides) declare that they are Israelite women, specifically, the as-yet unnamed mother and sister of Moses, Yocheved and Miriam. According to one Talmudic opinion (Sota 11b) Puah is not Miriam but Elisheva, Aaron’s wife, but since Aaron is only 3 when Moses is born, that seems more of a head scratcher. A different tradition, according to the Septuagint, Josephus, and Abravanel, is that the midwives were Egyptians. They are described in the text as having “feared God” (1:117), a phrase that seems to be used in the Bible to describe non-Israelites who came to believe in the Israelites’ God. And it seems more logical for Pharaoh to expect Egyptian women to carry out his nefarious order.
Fast forward: The boy, Moses, now an adult, has both a keen sense of justice and a temper, which together lead him to kill an abusive Egyptian taskmaster. Fearing for his life, Moses flees to Midian, rescues the 7 daughters of Jethro (at a well, of course), marries one of them (Zipporah – why her in particular?), and lives quietly as a shepherd until he’s 80. Then he is shown a bush that burns without being consumed and has his first encounter with the Lord, who tells him that he is to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses is dragged into this new position kicking and screaming, as it were, finally capitulating when he’s told his brother Aaron will help and when he’s run out of excuses; I believe he gave up after five. The Lord quickly outlines the Exodus plan (3:16-22) and teaches Moses a few nifty signs and wonders (Effective Presentations 101. Boy, I’m glad I’m retired.). At first, all goes well. The people are convinced, and Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh to ask him to let the Israelites go (for 3 days of worship in the desert). But then, Pharaoh refuses (“you’ve got to be kidding”) and increases the slaves’ workload by making them gather their own straw for brick making. The slaves lose faith in Moses and Moses, perplexed, calls to the Lord. (We’ll see that pattern a lot in Exodus.) The portion ends with the Lord’s reply that this was just a warm-up act, with the main show still to come.
Until a few years ago, I had not heard of a Moses Basket, which is a carrier for a baby in the form of a basket, smaller than a bassinet. But they are indeed available in stores. They’re not overly expensive, come in a variety of styles, and also provide a way for a newborn to sleep with the parents without the danger of suffocation. Some mothers love them; some find them useless except for storing toys and paraphernalia. Interesting comments are here. IGP
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, Aurora Leigh
Dilbert on PowerPoint Presentations
Burning bush—What the Israelites thought Moses had been smoking when he said he spoke with God.
Moses—The leader of the Israelites who should have gone up the mountain a third time for directions out of the desert.
Mount Sinai— The place where God told Moses to take two tablets and call him in the morning.
Q: How many midwives does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to sit there and wait for the old bulb to fall out of the socket naturally with no intervention, and one to give emotional support.
Top Ten Most Popular Egyptian Reality Shows
by isaac galena Posted: 04-15-2008(Viewed 2079 times)
10. Egyptian Idol: 24 contestants vie to worship a sun god
9.No Deal or No Deal – Pharaoh’s personal favorite
8. $25,000 Pyramid
7. The Amazing Race – 600,000+ people journey across a sea, a barren desert to reach a mountain top
6. So you think you can Walk (like an Egyptian)?
5. Egypt’s Got Talent! – lot of snake-to-stick acts to follow
4. Flavor of Blood
3. Project Runaway
2. Extreme Makeover Plague Edition- This family’s house was filled with frogs, pelted by hail, ravaged by animals, infested with lice and locusts, and worst of all, their light bulbs never seem to work
1. Survivor: Firstborn