Shemot 5773 – Gilayon #781

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Parshat Shemot

And a new king arose in Egypt who knew not Yoseph

And he said to his people:

Behold! the people of the children

of Israel

Is more numerous and vaster than we.

Come, let us act shrewdly with them, lest they multiply…

(Shemot 1:7)


Let us act shrewdly – Let us

seek a shrewd path so that they do not multiply (Ibn Ezra,

ibid., ibid.)

Let us act shrewdly with them –

There is positive wisdom and there is negative wisdom. The wisdom of Torah and

morality is positive wisdom, whereas the wisdom in matters of deception is negative

wisdom. This acting shrewdly is not [true] wisdom, for he does not say 'let

us be wise'. Scripture says (Kohellet

7:16) 'do not act overly shrewd',

cautioning against acting shrewdly [as against being shrewd] belongs to this

category of wisdom, for it [Kohellet] does not say "Do

not be overly wise".

(Rabbeinu Bachayey ibid. ibid.)


There is really little new under the

sun, and historic phenomena in general are as old as history itself. Whenever they

desire to oppress a nation, they subject to it another nation for them to oppress,

thereby providing compensation for the pressure applied from above. This policy

was the source of many of the decrees which had as their purpose the harming of

Jews. Perhaps a similar consideration guided the first promulgator of the earliest

"Jew Law". Pharaoh wished to compensate the Egyptian people whom he had

tyrannized forcefully, and towards this end he created a caste of inferior beings,

upon which the Egyptian could look down with confidence and pride, imagining himself to be a free man. And if Pharaoh could find no greater

violation with which to charge the Jews other than that of population growth, and

if in order to justify his planned decrees he was forced to depend upon consideration

of "the welfare of the state", there can be no more a shining testimony

to the social-ethical behavior of the Jews.

(RaSHaR Hirsch, ibid. ibid.)



Moshe rabeinu's feminine world

Marco Ottolenghi

Parashat Shemot, which opens the Book

of Shemot, second book of the Pentateuch, is devoted primarily

to the progression of the Israelite nations from Egyptian servitude to its miraculous

path to freedom and receiving the Torah. Alongside the main narrative can be found

– between the lines – additional important topics which do not always receive sufficient


For example, it

is interesting to research the possible meanings which may be attributed to the

definitions of the names, both of persons and of the Divine (See chap. V. 13).

It is also worthwhile to note the variety of female images which surround

Moshe from birth until his standing before Pharaoh in fulfillment of his mission.

The parasha begins with the words: "And these are the names

of the Children of Israel…"

The sixteenth century Italian commentator, Ovadiah of

Seforno, writes: Those mentioned here are worthy of being

identified by name because each of them is worthy of consideration as a man, his

name indicative of his personal image". Seforno emphasizes

the intrinsic value of the essence of the name and its significance in the life

of he who carries it. We are well-acquainted with this idea from the Book of Bereishit, where we find the names of Abraham, Sarah, Yitzchak

and Yishmael chosen and given by the Lord himself.

In light of this

fact, we are puzzled, and perhaps do not really comprehend the significance of the

phenomenon that the greatest prophet to arise in Israel, the man chosen by the Lord

to lead the exodus from Egypt, bears a name given him not by his parents nor by

the Lord, but by a gentile woman.

It is written in

Shemot Rabba (1:26):

And she called

his name Moshe … For from the water I drew him out". Did not his father and

mother give him a name before this? But the Holy One, blessed be He, rewards those

who perform deeds of righteousness. Even though Moshe had many names, throughout

the Torah he is called only by the name assigned him by Batya,

daughter of Pharaoh, and even the Holy One called him by no other name.

Moshe's additional

names (Yered, Gador, Hever, Socho, Yekutiel

and Zanoach) are known to us from R' Shimeon ben Pazi's

derasha (Bavli, Megilla 13a) on a passage in the Book of Chronicles, yet

in all the Torah the name given by the daughter of Pharaoh is used exclusively.

Even at the epiphany

of the burning bush, where Moshe merits the revelation of God which is to change

the course of his life, charging him with an unprecedented mission, we are surprised

to discover that this signpost is not accompanied by a change of name. In the Book

of Bereishit we see that significant change in the lives

of the patriarchs is often accompanied by a divine command to change the name: "No

longer will you be called by your name Abram; your name will be Avraham, for I have made you father to a multitude of nations"

(Bereishit 17:5); "And the Lord said to him, your name

is Yaakov; your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael

shall be your name, and He called his name Yisrael"

(Ibid. 35:10).

The question, then, is why is there no name change when Moshe is called upon

by the Lord to liberate the Israelite nation from Egypt, and why is there no name change

before the giving of the Torah.

In the light of

the Seforno's words regarding the reflection of man's

character in his name, we suggest the following explanation: Moshe was saved by

a gentile woman who rebelled against her father's orders because she could not suffer

the injustice of killing all the male children. Her compassion for Moshe was greater

than her national affiliation. R' Shimshon Rafael Hirsch


And the child

grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became a son to her, and

she called his name Moshe, 'For from the water I drew him out'" (Shemot 2:10). By giving this name, she wished to say: Let

him never in all his life forget that he was flung into the water and was drawn

out by me. Thus, throughout his life he will possess a kind heart, sensitive to

the suffering of the other and always prepared to be a savior in time of trouble,

to be "one who draws out".

In other word,

there is no need for a name change because Moshe's main mission in life is already

inherent in the name he received from Batya, daughter

of Pharaoh, i.e., to be attuned to the needs of the other, to protect and free the

weak. This mission is not limited to the Israelite nation alone.

It is interesting

to note that not only was it the name which Moshe received from a female figure.

Plain reading of the Bible teaches us that Moshe owed his life to a number of women,

beginning with Yocheved his mother and Miriam his sister,

through Batya daughter of Pharaoh, and ending with Tsipporah, daughter of Yitro. It is

reasonable to assume, therefore, that Moshe, through his concern for the weak, is

particularly sensitive to the status of women and their fate. These qualities were

assimilated into Moshe's personality and we are witness to such qualities as seeking

of justice and zero tolerance for injustice. Upon reaching maturity he goes out

to meet his brothers. His first step is intervention against an Egyptian beating

a Hebrew, followed by an additional intervention in an altercation between two Hebrews.

Both actions were taken from a position of relative strength, Moshe then being a

member of Pharaoh's household. Different was the situation when Moshe saved the

daughters of Yitro; then he was but a sole wandering refugee,

fleeing for his life. Moshe reveals fully the personality evoked by his name; he

cannot stand by and witness violence of men against women. According to Rashi, the violence of the Mideanite

shepherds against Yitro's daughters was a result of excommunication

of Yitro's family. The reason for said excommunication

was related to Yitro's decision to discard idolatry, despite

the fact that he was a senior priest of the Mideanite


In this event,

then, we see the phenomenon (familiar to us today as well) of arrogance and male

aggression against women disguised as religiosity. It is important to note, in any

case, that the Torah ties this phenomenon to idolatrous practice, and the one who

rises up against it with all his power and despite the dangers, is the greatest

of all prophets, our teacher Moshe, loyal to his personality and faithful to his



Ottolenghi is an advocate, a graduate of the Hebrew U.

Law Faculty. He currently teaches Judaism at the University of Milan.




Oppressed Must be Saved from his Oppressor without Regard

for Nationality

When he went out the next day, he

saw two hebrews fighting: so

he said to the offender, "why do you strike your fellow?" he retorted,

"who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed

the egyptian? Moses was frightened

and thought: then the matter is known!



Two HebrewsThis

comes to order to commend Moses. It shows that he did not kill the Egyptian on the

previous day out of brotherly solidarity, but rather in order to save the oppressed

from his oppressor. The proof is that on the next day he rebuked a man who caused

strife with his fellow, even though both of them were Hebrews and it would have

seemed appropriate to sympathize with the victimizer (as well as with the victimized),

since he was one of his brothers.

(R. Yitzhak Shemuel Riggio,


ad loc)


Even When Justified, the Killer Cannot

Erase the Memory of the Killing

The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to Moses: "Moses, whose son are you?"

He replied: "The son of Amram."

"And Amram is the son of whom?" He replied:

"The son of Kehat."

The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: "Are any of them still alive?"

He replied: "They have all died."

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

He replied, "Master of the Universe, the first man [Adam] stole and

ate against your will, and you sentenced him to death, but I – did I ever steal

anything from you?! You wrote about me, My servant

Moses, most trustworthy in my house – how, then, can I die?"

He said: "Are you greater than Abraham, whom I tested with ten trials?"

He replied: "Abraham fathered Ishmael, whose descendents enslaved your


He said: "Are you greater than Isaac?"

He replied: "Isaac fathered one who will destroy your House, and his

sons will kill your sons."

The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to him: "Did I order you to kill

the Egyptian?!" Moses replied to Him: "You killed all the firstborn

of Egypt,

yet I am to die because of a single Egyptian?!"

The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to him: "Are you comparable to me,

killing and giving life? Can you give life as I do?"

(From the midrash Petirat

Moshe found in Beit Hamidrash,

uoted in

New Studies in the Book

of Shemot by

Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z"l)


Empathy with the Suffering of Others

is the Secret of Revelation and of Redemption

Rabbi Yanai

said: Just as it is with these twins, that if the head of the one aches, the other

feels it as well, [so too] in a manner of speaking, the Holy One Blessed Be He said,

I am with him in troubles (Tehillim 91: 15).

Another explanation: What does I

am with him in troubles mean? When they suffer adversity, they call only upon

the Holy One Blessed Be He. [So it was] in Egypt: And their cry for help from

the bondage rose up to God (Shemot 2:23). At the Red Sea: And the children of Israel cried out

to the Lord (Shemot 14:10). And so it happened many times, so he said,

In all their troubles He was troubled (Isaiah 63:9). The Holy One Blessed Be He said to

Moses: "Don't you sense that I am steeped in suffering, just as Israel is steeped

in suffering? Understand that I speak to you from amongst the thorns; I am, so to

speak, their partner in suffering.

(Shemot Rabbah 2)


"The Place On Which You Stand

– It Is Holy Ground!"

– What is Place?


word "HaMakkom" – "The place" is be understood figuratively,

its application being that Moshe's value was very high, as is written, "Who

shall ascend the mountain of the Lord, and who will rise in His holy place? One of clean hands and pure heart."


Davar, Shemot 3:5)



Avraham returned to his place" – to his humanness; he

did not continue to seclude himself and pray, even though it is possible to be alone

and pray even without revelation of the Divine Presence; he nonetheless discontinued

his contemplation of the divinity once he understood the will of God, and returned

to his place.


Davar, Bereishit 18:33)



I will go to my place and to my land" – to my value,

that I will not be a servant to others, and thus is its interpretation

in Bereishit Rabba on the verse

"And Lavan returned to hisplace"to his bad habits.


Davar' Bereishit 30:25)



language extended its meaning and made it a term denoting an individual's rank and

situation… It is in this figurative manner that it is said: "Blessed be

the glory of the Lord from His place", meaning,

according to His rank and the greatness of His portion in existence. Similarly in

every mention of place referring to God, the sole intention is to signify the rank

of His existence, may He be exalted; there being nothing like or similar to that


(Rambam, Guide of the Perplexed, I, 8)



Moshe hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God" (Shemot 32:6)

Commendation or Condemnation

"And He said: You shall not be

able to see My face" (Shemot 33:20). A Tanna taught

in the name of R. Joshua b. Korhah: The Holy One, blessed

be He, spoke thus to Moshe: When I wanted, you did not want [to see My face} now that you want, I do not want. – This is in opposition

to [the interpretation of this verse by] R. Shmuel b.

Nahmani in the name of R. Yonathan.

For R. Shmuel b. Nahmani said

in the name of R. Jonathan: As a reward of three [pious acts] Moshe was privileged

to obtain three [favors]. In reward of "And Moshe hid his face' (Shemot 34), he obtained

the brightness of his face. In reward of 'For he was afraid' (Shemot 3), he obtained the privilege that They were afraid to come nigh him. In reward of 'To look upon

God' (Bemidbar 12), he was granted 'The

similitude of the Lord doth he behold'.

(Bavli, Berachot 7a)


Scripture says that Moshe hid his

face "for he was afraid to look at God" – yet this was the same Moshe

of whom it is later told that "and God spoke to Moshe face to face" and

also "he saw the similitude of the Lord". There is no contradiction between

these. "He saw the similitude of the Lord" – true recognition of the Lord

is actually the recognition that man cannot recognize the Lord, and therefore Moshe

"hid his face", because he did recognize the Lord.

Rashi, commenting

on the Talmudic dictum "All the prophets looked through an unclear glass, but

Moshe, our teacher, looked through a lucid glass", makes a powerful statement

which embodies the simple yet complete faith: "All the prophets looked through

an unclear glass – but thought that they saw Him; Moshe, our teacher, looked through

a lucid glass – and knew that he did not see Him before him". This is recognition

of the transcendental God.

(Yeshaayahu Leibowitz,

Comments on the Parshiyot of the Torah, p. 41 [Heb.]


The place upon which you stand is sacred soil

The Sages explained: Moses' face was

like the sun and Joshua like the moon (Bava Batra 75a). Just as one half of the moon shines and the other

is dark, so too was Joshua: his intellectual side gave illumination, but his remaining

material side was dark. However, Moses' face was like the sun, which illuminates

from all sides. His material aspect had become so purified that the material skin

of his face shined. It had been refined when he stood on the mountain for forty

days without eating or drinking, nourished by the brilliance of His Divine Presence,

may He be blessed. That is why Moses was told remove your shoes (Shemot 3:5) – meaning two [shoes] –

which implies the negation of materiality from both his aspects: refinement

of his intellect from material influences, as well as the refinement of the material

aspect itself. That is why it says, as if by way of explanation, for the place

upon which you stand is sacred soil. The word place [makom]

refers to a status, and the verse says that at the status which you have achieved,

even the part of you that is soil is holy. That is why Scripture says, is sacred

soil. Since you have achieved this great status, I had to tell you do not

come close to view the Divine Presence, because no man can see me and live

(Shemot 33:20). Even the angels do not draw near to view

God's essence, all the more so a human living in this world should not draw near.

(Keli Yakar 3:5)




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