Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 January 2020 / 21 Tevet 5780

Parshat Shmot

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shemot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males.

Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yocheved to be his nursemaid.

Years later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescuesTzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their

subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mount Sinai), Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, the Land promised to their ancestors.

Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-d's agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker, G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.


The Music and the Machine

“So they appointed taskmasters…” (1:11)

There’s a fine line between a hobby and an obsession. I saw an interesting article about this fine line. The story was about two enthusiasts, one of them being a keen amateur photographer. He was technically proficient but he had neither the time nor the application to be a great photographer. Whenever a new lens appeared on the market, he had to rush out and buy it because “this lens is going to change everything.” His kit bag was already heavy enough to threaten an early onset of sciatica, but nevertheless the new lens took its pride-of-place alongside his other largely unused glassware.

The other subject of this article was a keen amateur guitarist. He wasn’t a bad player, but again, he neither had the time nor probably the talent to be really great. This didn’t stop him from buying guitar after guitar. He knew full well that “the guitar maketh not the man.” But in the absence of “the chops” — he’d settle for “the chopping board” – so to speak.

Needless to say, this is how camera and guitar companies make their billions, by the not-too-subtle insinuation that all you need is to buy your photographer/guitar hero’s camera/guitar and you will produce work indistinguishable from the master. I think it was Henri Cartier-Bresson who said, “The worst camera is better than the best photographer.” The same, I’m sure, is true of guitars.

It’s all too easy in life to mistake the nonsense for the essence. The desire to express ourselves through art or music is the song of the soul, but it can easily be sidetracked and hijacked by the material word and we can end up polishing our cameras and our guitars rather than our talents.

We live in a materialistic world that usurps our innate spirituality.

The matrix of all the exiles of the Jewish People is Egypt. Egypt is the epitome of the physical world, the “faithless wife” described by King Solomon in Mishlei (Proverbs). She is as inconstant and shiftless as the waters of the Nile, and those who are bewitched by her will know no rest. Last week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, is unique in the whole Torah that it has no extra space between it and the preceding parsha. Rashi, therefore, describes Vayechi as being “closed.” With the death of Yaakov, the enslavement of the Egyptian exile commenced.

Yaakov’s sons’ eyes were “closed” to their enslavement. It grew like a subtle, pernicious but tenacious power. The Midrash says that Pharaoh deceived the Jews into showing their patriotism by building great cities to guard the wealth of the country. Pharaoh himself set an example by joining the labor force to symbolize that everyone must help Egypt in her time of need. Once the Jews had committed themselves psychologically — figuratively donning their own chains — it was an easy step to enslave them physically.

There are always two powers pulling at our souls, the “music” and the “machine.” Happy is he whose eyes are open to the materialism that grasps at even our most spiritual aspirations!

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Torah Weekly

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.