Torah Weekly - Parshat Shmot

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Parshat Shmot

For the week ending 23 Tevet 5760 / 31 December 1999 & 1 January 2000

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  • Destructive Salvation
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    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 Parsha, 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 rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai), Moshe witnesses the burning bush where Hashem 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 Hashem's agent, so Hashem 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 Hashem 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 Hashem assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.




    "And these are the names of the Children of Israel." (1:1)

    New Year's Eve is the loneliest night of the year. Such unrealized expectation! Hanging over one's head, the monumental question: "Where will I be, and what will I be doing when the new year is rung in?"

    This year, that question will be amplified a thousand times.

    And what will most people be doing? Immersed in a sense of deep introspection on what the coming millennium portends? I doubt it. Deep introspection of the bottom of a large Scotch is more likely. Many, with the help of legal or not-quite-legal substances, will try and escape from anything which resembles even mild contemplation. The more athletic amongst us will, of course, be experiencing the deep significance of the new millennium by jumping into fountains from London to Lagos.

    Why will the world react to what it considers the most significant moment in a thousand years with total superficiality and escapism?

    It's not by coincidence that this week, we begin reading the book of Shemot. In English the second book of the Torah is called Exodus, but in Hebrew, Shemot means "Names." In the Holy Tongue, the name of something defines its essence. When G-d created the world, He brought each animal before Adam, and Adam gave that creature its name. Adam's names were not imaginative. They were definitive. Adam gave expression to the essence of each and every creature through its name. The name is the pipeline to the spiritual essence above. The name is the root and the summation of essence.

    Great events connect us to our essence. When someone gets married, is born or dies, we step back and take stock of our entire lives. Great events, whether they really are great or we merely perceive them as great, bring us to introspection. The secular world when faced with a "great event" realizes that all it has to look forward to is lines under its eyes, cosmetic surgery and heart disease. The Jew, when confronted with great events, sees how everything in this world leads beyond this world.

    That's why this Friday, while the rest of the world is drowning its sorrows in various kinds of anesthesia, the Jewish People will be doing what it has been doing for the last three thousand years — basking in the light of the Shabbat candles, making blessings over wine and bread, and ushering in a day of rest and tranquillity with quiet faith. Shabbat Kodesh. The Holy Shabbat.


    Yeshayahu 27:6 - 28:13, 29:22 - 23



    After 210 years of Egyptian bondage, G-d finally redeemed us with unparalleled miracles. Surely G-d could have wrought miracles two centuries earlier and saved a lot of trouble.

    Both the Egyptian bondage and its subsequent Exodus were promised to Avraham long before they occurred. The slavery and oppression were part of G-d's plan. The Prophet Yeshaya explains that we are not subject to the whim of our oppressors. Rather, our nation's suffering throughout the ages is part of G-d's plan. When the soul of the nation becomes soiled, when we stray from the Torah's path, G-d allows our oppressors teach us what a weak little nation we are.

    Yeshaya foresees the time when the People of Israel will repent. When we return to live a life of Torah, G-d will exact justice on our enemies and gather the exiled Jews home to Jerusalem.


    "For (they think) that each mitzvah is only there for another mitzvah, one line for another line, another one for another one, pettiness here, pettiness there." (28:10)

    With the above — some of Yeshayahu's sharpest words ever to the Jewish People — the prophet rebukes those people in whose eyes Torah law is mere semantics — one mitzvah for another mitzvah. Such people view Torah study as mental gymnastics — one line for another, nothing but pettiness.

    What flaw underlies these people's skewed outlook?

    It would be impossible to appreciate the beauty of the Bayeaux tapestry just by looking at a square inch of it. Likewise, the beauty of the Torah can only be appreciated by seeing the whole picture. The prophet's criticism is that they never studied the Torah. They have viewed only a tiny corner of it from the outside. And still they dare to mock it.

    If we engage in proper Torah study and plumb its depths, then we will be able to see the Torah as one beautiful tapestry.

    Love of the Land
    Selections from classical Torah sources
    which express the special relationship between
    the People of Israel and Eretz Yisrael


    "Kalev declared: ‘To whomever shall conquer Kiryat Sefer I shall allow to marry my daughter Achsah.' " (Shoftim 1:12)

    As the Jewish People under the leadership of Yehoshua began their conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the Tribe of Yehuda headed by Kalev ben Yefuneh reached the city of Kiryat Sefer in its efforts to drive out the Canaanites from Yehuda's portion of the land. The city presented a serious challenge that motivated Kalev to make this attractive offer. It was Kalev's half-brother, Otniel ben Knaz, who conquered the city and won the hand of his extraordinary niece.

    The gemara (Mesechta Temurah 16a) interprets the name Kiryat Sefer as meaning "the city of the book" and ascribes a different sort of triumph to Otniel. During the mourning period following the passing of Moshe, 1700 halachic interpretations received from him were forgotten. It was Otniel who, through his scholarly talents, restored them to his people and won the hand of Achsah.

    The city today bearing the name Kiryat Sefer is about a half-hour's distance from Jerusalem, and is fast becoming the third largest charedi community in Eretz Yisrael. Right next to it is an area designated to house an Ohr Somayach housing project in the very near future..

    Love of the Land Archives

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Eli Ballon

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