Shemot 5762 – Gilayon #220

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat

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Parashat Shemot


(Shemoth I:5-7)


"They multiplied and increased
very greatly… "

"I will bestow my blessing upon
you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands
on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes."


As the stars
rule only at night, so Israel rules over the Torah only at night.

alternative explanation: Just as the stars respect each other, and there is
peace between them – "He who makes between his celestials" – so do the
righteous respect other and love each other. And just as their exists no contention
between the stars, so does the good inclination direct the righteous.

explanation: Just as a single star can set the entire world afire, so can the
righteous – such as Elijah, for whom fire descended when he said: "If I am a
man of God, may fire descend from the heavens and consume you and the fifty
men, etc."
(II Kings 1:12)

(P'sikta Rabbati Parsha 11)





Yair Eldan


In three famous disputes (Bavli,
Sotah 11a), Rav and Shmuel argue the meaning of the facts transmitted in the
opening passages of the Book of Shemot. The best known of the three is the
dispute as to the identity of the "new king", a dispute quoted by Rashi:

Rav and Shmuel [argued]: One said:
"A new king"; the other said: "[the same king, but] he issued new decrees."

The second dispute deals with the reason for terming
the cities constructed by the Israelites for Egypt 'arei miskanot' – 'storage

One said: "Because they endanger
their masters," and one said: "Because they impoverish their masters."

The third dispute relates to the source of the names
"Pithom" and "Raamses":

One said: "Its name was Pithom, and
why was it called Raamses? Because it would crumble one bit at a time."[2]
And the other said: "The city's name was Raamses, and why was it called Pithom?
Because the mouth of the depths [pi tehom] would swallow it one bit at a

These three disputes, which reveal
one handbreadth but conceal two, are related by a single theme. All three
attempt to cope with our retrospective attitude to the issue of the servitude
of the Children of Israel in Egypt. Was it a case of "the same king, who issued
new decrees?", the same madam in different garb, the repeated and re-repeated
story resulting from the eternal metaphysical relations between the nations and
the Jews? Or was this a "new king", a new situation, different from preceding
situations, one which is subject to change by us, a situation dependent upon
the character of the people involved?

This silken thread is also
discernible in a dispute regarding the nature of the enslavement – is this a
servitude of existential character – labor which "endangers" its subjects? Or
was it an emotional, passing servitude – labor which "impoverishes their
owners"? Again – the metaphysical struggle versus the dynamic conception.

And as regards the third dispute –
which carries heavier weight, Raamses or Pithom? Raamses, the crumbling
building, built and destroyed, necessitating rebuilding upon a foundation of
ruins, reminding the Israelite slaves again and again of the Sisyphusian effort
demanded of them? The description of the construction work serves, in double
meaning, both as a metaphor for time and also as an actual description of the
great effort demanded of the Children of Israel. The ruins are also the past
which calls to the Children of Israel from every corner, making it clear to us
that we are dealing with the a metaphysical conflict which has neither
beginning nor end. Or is our subject Pithom – the possibility that the built
structure will be swallowed up in the earth, that the past will not repeat
itself, that our pain will be different, that the servitude will come to an
end. The controversy instills in us the desire to differentiate. On one hand,
Shmuel, informed in the ways of the nations and in their knowledge, Shmuel the
astronomer and the physician, is probably the more optimistic of the two as
regards gentile-Jew relations. Rav, man of Halakha, most sagacious, mentor of talmidei
, is probably the more pessimistic. Today, as the 1700 year old
dispute is still alive in us, perhaps two things should be remembered: a.) The
facts which lay at the basis of the dispute were accepted by both sages – both
agreed that the Children of Israel were enslaved, and both concurred that they
were tortured with hard labor.

Second – and perhaps even more
important: taking a position contrary to an earlier position, and a bit of
humor, are also part of the Rav-Shmuel tradition; these are
essential for the possibility of communication between people of
different opinions. This can seen in a fourth dispute: Who are the "midwives
of the Hebrews

"Rav and Shmuel argue – One says:
"A woman and her daughter – Yocheved and Miriam", and one says: "A
daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law – Yocheved and Elisheva."

Rav and Shmuel present two
approaches to the perception of reality: an optimistic perception of reality
which holds the potential for changes and the ability to change, as against a
view of static, deterministic reality which continually repeats itself. When
this controversy is presented in the form of "woman-daughter" and "woman-daughter-in-law"
relations, we cannot help but smile. When the question "Is there a reality in
which mothers-in-laws and daughters-in-law are allies?" is asked in all
seriousness, it has an effect of release. Role reversal is possible here. One
who is a pessimist regarding Jew-gentile relations, one whose world outlook is
static, who believes that "the goyim are always against us", that we are "a
nation which dwells alone" –
can definitely believe that for the sake of an
alliance against the goyim reality can change — mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law can join forces to fight the decree of the old-new king. So, by
weaving a web of disputes, by creating one common basis, and adding a little
smile, communication between opponents seems possible.

Eldan is a lawyer





In blessed memory of

My mother and teacher

Miram Leiser, daughter of Pinchas and Channah

Who went to her final resting place on 21 Tevet 5756


THE CHILD GREW, she brought him to
Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son.

She called his name: Moshe; she
said: For out of the water, I pulled him.

Now it was some years later MOSHE

saw their burdens.

He saw and Egyptian man striking A HEBREW MAN, ONE OF HIS BROTHERS.

He turned this way and that way,
and seeing that there was no man there, he struck down the Egyptian and buried
him in the sand.

(Shemoth II, 10-12)


first act as an adult, is to
go out to his brothers and to beat/kill the Egyptian who struck his Hebrew brother. (Commentators
differ as to Moshe's intentions).

explanation – based on the Midrash Tanhuma – is well known. The Egyptian was an
overseer who had killed the husband of Shelomit bat Divri, after having been
intimate with her.

usual, simple, reading of the text has Moshe going out to his Hebrew brothers
after his reaching maturity; most commentators interpreted the first "his
in a the passage as referring to Moshe's Hebrew brothers.


Ramban, for example:

"And the meaning of "went out to his brothers" – because
they told him that he was a Jew, and he wanted to see them because they were
his brothers, and he saw their suffering and their hard labor, and he could not
tolerate it, therefore he killed the Egyptian who beat the oppressed."
Shemot 2:11)

In other
words, Pharaoh's daughter, who had raised Moshe, revealed to him that he was
really an adopted Jewish child. His going out to his brothers is actually a
return to his Hebrew roots, like an adopted child seeking – upon reaching
eighteen – to open the adoption file and to meet his biological parents.
Therefore, out of identification with his fellow Hebrew, he strikes the


Ibn Ezra reads the text in
a most interesting and unconventional manner:

 " 'And he went out to his brothers' –
the Egyptians… and the
meaning of "from among his brothers" ["beating a Hebrew man from
among his brothers"
] after mentioning "a Hebrew man" is that he was
a member of his family, as with "people who are brothers".

(Ibn Ezra, Shemot, ibid., ibid.)


redactor of Ibn Ezra's commentary for the Mossad Harav Kook edition (printed in
"Torat Hayyim"), remarks: "It would seem that the text should read 'The
Hebrews' rather than 'the Egyptians' – but there is no evidence of such a
version. It is not realistic to assume that "the young typesetter" should
replace a rational and acceptable version with a puzzling one. The more
puzzling version which is printed in most Humashim allows us to read the
complexity of this passage, according to Ibn Ezra's profound commentary.

grew up in Pharaoh's abode, and if Pharaoh's daughter intended to save him –
like one of the righteous women of the nations who rebelled against her
father's decree – it is not reasonable to assume that she revealed to him his
Hebrew origins. Why should she give up the son whom she raised and make him
vulnerable to servitude?

however, according to Ibn Ezra, goes out to his
Egyptian brothers, as an Egyptian who grew
in Pharaoh's home, for this is the identity which he knows. But when he sees
the Egyptian's action, he understands that his real brother is the
persecuted Hebrew who is
beaten and humiliated by the Egyptian. This discovery connects him anew to
questions about identity which he must have asked himself in Pharaoh's home, to
the founding story of his birth, to his being set upon the Nile because "they
could no longer hide him,"
and to his saving by Pharaoh's daughter. Moshe,
as he discovers his identity, reacts forcefully against the oppression,
characteristic of a young freedom fighter rebelling with all his might against
the enslavement, the oppression and the degradation of his compatriot. He
discovers that, in order to become a true leader capable of freeing his people
from the yoke of slavery, he must first undergo a period of maturation and

with the understanding expressed by many Midrashim for Moshe's extreme action,
there is a later Midrash which expresses, in the name of The Holy One, Blessed
Be He, criticism of the killing of the Egyptian, therewith rationalizing
Moshe's punishment:

Said The
Holy One, Blessed Be He to Moshe: "Moshe, whose son are you?" He replied: "Son
of Amram."

Amram is the son of whom?" He replied, "Son of Kehat"… Said to him The Holy
One, Blessed Be He: "Did anyone of them survive?" He replied: "All died."

Said to
him The Holy One, Blessed Be He: "
And you want to live!?"

He said
to Him: "Master of the universe, Adam, the first man, stole and ate that which
you forbade, and you punished him with death, and I – did I ever steal anything
from you?! And you wrote about me "My servant Moshe, most loyal of all my
house" – is it right that I die? . . He said to him: "Are you greater than
Avraham whom I tested with ten tests?" He replied to Him: "Avraham – from him
descended Yishmael, whose sons killed your sons." Said He to him: "Are you
greater than Yitzhak?" He said to Him: "Yitzhak – from his loins descended he
who will destroy your house and his children will kill your children." Said The
Holy One, Blessed Be He, to him: "
Did I command you to kill the Egyptian?" Said
Moshe to Him: "
you killed all the firstborn of Egypt
, yet I am to die because of one Egyptian?!"
Said to him The Holy One, Blessed Be He: "Are you like me,
extinguishing life and
giving life?
Can you bring to life as I do?" (From the Midrash "The Death of
Moshe", "Beit Hamidrash". Quoted in New Studies in the Book of Shemot,
by Prof. Nehamah Leibowits, z"l)

It is
possible that the killing of the Egyptian can be understood against the
background of Moshe's total identification with his people's suffering, after
he discovered his identity as a son of a persecuted and humiliated nation, but
sometimes total identification with suffering may blur the boundaries between
the permissible and the forbidden. Even a fighter for justice who rises up
against wrong perpetrated against his relatives and members of his people must
observe limits and practice restraint and cannot "take the law into his own
hands". Only God, who can also grant life, may take life.

Pinchas Leiser, Editor of "Shabbat Shalom" is a


 "And the king of Egypt
died and the Children of Israel groaned because of the labor and they cried

Even though the king was evil, his death disturbed
them, for they feared lest he be succeeded by one even more evil.

(Rabeinu Behayeh, Shemot 2:23)


As long as that king was alive, they hoped that
perhaps upon his death his decrees against them would be nullified, for this is
the custom when a king dies, immediately all the prisoners in the land are
freed. But when this one died, his decrees were not nullified; they said: Now
this will go on forever, therefore "they cried out".

(Hizkuni, Shemot 2: 23)


From the experience of human history, we recognize
the situation in which the joy over a the fall of an incompetent regime is
transformed into sorrow and grief when people discover the nature of the
opposition which replaced the previous government. Many changes of rule and
political upheavals which were intended initially to correct injustices and to
erase evil and iniquities, ended up by making matters worse. From this aspect,
not much has changed in our world over the last 3500 years since the first
Pharaoh was replaced by the second one.

Leibowitz, Seven Years of Discussions of the Weekly Parasha, p. 198)




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[1] The work 'miskanot' here translated "storage",
contains the root s'kh'n, – a root which appears also in the Hebrew for
'danger' and 'poverty' – thus explaining the remainder of the above exposition.

[2] The midrash relates the word Raamses to the root r's's
– meaning fragments.