This is a very important date - we
begin the book of Shemot (Exodus).
For those who like numbers.
We now have the privilege
of receiving, reading, listening, loving, understanding
and applying these 20 513 and 20 514th words of the Torah
- veele Shemot (now these are the names). We are progressing
but we still have a long way to go before we reach the
last word of the Torah, the 79 847th.
Number of letters, words,
in the books of the Torah
LETTERS WORDS VERSES SECTIONS
Torah 304 805 79 487 5 845 187
Shemot 63 529 16 723 1 209 40
There are 11 parashiot in Shemot, comprising 164 subjects
set out in paragraphs which are also called parashiot.
Moshe is the 26th generation
and lives 120 years (Devarim 34, 7). He was 80 years old
when he pleaded with Pharoah (Shemot 7, 7) and he will
spend 40 years in the desert. When he was born, the Jewish
people had been in slavery for 34 years and had had before
that 94 years of joy.
Moshe is the son of Yohebed
and Amram (Shemot 6, 20), who was the son of Kohath (Shemot
6, 18), son of Levi (Shemot 6, 16), son of Yaakov.
Position in the story
Bereshit revealed to us all
the elements of creation, the plan for its development,
the obstacles in its realization, the participants and
the first failures in the relationships between men and
women, as well as between brothers, family members, nations
and between man and his creator.
The end of the book of Bereshit
is a sort of repeat of the main story: we return to Egypt,
which represents the rest of the world, in order to take
up the project again and break through the klipa (shell)
that is impeding the realization of the global plan.
The first 7 parashiot of the
book of Shemot describe a process of liberation, at the
end of which free man can choose: or to continue his liberation
or to remain in slavery like the Hebrew slave.
For this reason, the beginning
of the parasha Shemot reviews the events of the preceding
book, after which we witness the birth of a new man and
of the nation.
The 10 themes of the Parasha
10 main stages can be distinguished:
1. The names and groupings
of the people.
2. The new era: a new king reigns, he persecutes the bene
Yisrael with high taxes and orders that their sons be
killed at birth and thrown in the river.
3. The birth of Moshe, Miriam's intervention to save him,
the arrival of Pharoah's (Paro) daughter Bitia at the
river, Miriam places Moshe near her and he is saved. The
meaning of his name.
4. Moshe kills a henchman and flees. The daughters of
Yithro. Moshe marries Tzipora.
5. The cries of the suffering people. Now a shepherd,
Moshe sees the burning bush. Because of his response,
he is chosen for the task. He refuses to see Pharaoand
is encouraged by God's miracles (serpent, hand, blood).
He refuses to speak to Pharaoh, Hashem's response.
6. Moshe leaves Yithro and goes to Egypt with his family.
7. The dangerous encounter with the angel, the encounter
with Aaron. Moshe gives proof of God to the people.
8. Moshe's first requests to Pharaoh to let his people
go. Pharaoh's refusal and the terrible punishments vented
by Pharaoh against Israel.
9. The first revolts by the people against Moshe and Aaron.
10. Moshe's lament to Hashem and Hashem's reponse: "now,
you will see
1. Rashi's commentaries
An important point: Rashi
does not comment on the process of political liberation,
nor on the psychological relationships between the protagonists,
nor on the theological or moral elements of the story.
The first, and most important
point, according to Rashi, which pervades all the themes
of the parasha is the centrality of love:
Veele shemot bene Yisrael. Af-al-pi shemenaan behayehem
bishemotam, hazarumenaan bemitatan, lehodia hibatan
"Now these are the names of the children of Israel:
even though their names were enumerated during their lifetime,
we return to them and enumerate them again after their
death in order to show that we love them
It is very important to understand
and respect this hierarchy of plans in the themes and
in the events that are recorded in the Torah; this is
what Rashi is teaching us.
Rashi begins each of his commentaries
on the books of the Torah with the theme of God's love
(hiba); his aim is to engrave once and for all this hierarchy
in our minds.
Later, when we arrive at the
precise formulation of the commandments, we will find
the commandment to love (veahavta, Devarim 6, 5). This
will form the heart of the edifice and the heart of the
daily prayer for the recitation of the shema Yisrael is
circumscribed by the word "love."
Two questions will help us
understand Rashi's teaching:
" as we consider the
history of humanity and that of the Jewish people, are
we aware that the underlying theme is love?
" in the face of historical
and political realities, and our own personal problems,
do we have the courage to look at history from this perspective,
which is transmitted by tradition?
Those who do not see love
and affection (hiba) in the story of the persecution of
the children of Israel in Egypt, should read the prophets
for they stress this factor. We should not however, as
is usually done, attribute to the prophets this message
of love, for they are simply stating what is written in
the Torah, and Rashi clearly demonstrates this to u.
1. Rejecting happiness
True it is difficult to see
this spontaneously: why? The Torah is a letter of love,
yet we usually risk seeing it only as a record of events,
or simply as a story, or an ancient holy text. But the
Torah teaches us a surprising lesson: the evolution of
humanity is a search for love. Rashi reveals what is blocking
us. There is always an element in man that makes him reject
love and happiness. Enormous courage is needed in order
to have faith in love and happines. A large part of psychotherapeutic
or psychological work is devoted to uncovering this tendency
to "reject happiness." The secret is to understand
it, uncover it and confront it in order to move forward.
2. The nation-family
The second point refers to
the first sentence of the parasha:
"now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who
came into Egypt with Yaakov; every man came with his own
While this seems to represent
the historical or political birth of a nation or people,
there is in fact something else, as Rashi's commentary
what will be born is a nation-family,
whose constitution is not collective allegiance and affiliation
but a relationship of love that unites them. We are told
explicitly that the foundation of this group of people
is love. It is a rare constitution whose emblem is not
"liberty-equality-fraternity" but "love."
What Constitutional Council would dare to be so ambitious?
3. The role of women
The third point centers on
the role of women. The process of birth involves the participation
of man and woman as procreators. We will discover in this
parasha an illuminating teaching on this subject.
On the one hand, man halts
the process of creation (Pharaoh by oppressing, the Levi
who cooperates with him by refusing to have sexual relations
with his wife, Moshe who refuses twice to intervene, Pharaoh's
This should make us reflect
on the results of the almost exclusive domination by men
of positions of power.
On the other hand, the text
describes the creative role of women (the daughter of
Pharaoh, her servants, Moshe's mother Yokhebed and his
sister Miriam, the midwives); the parasha should be re-read
with these comments in mind.
We should take heed not to
reject this teaching with the cliche ("since we are
talking of birth, it is normal that women should be present").
The text stresses clearly that this difference between
men and women is of crucial collective importance: it
is a process that allows the continuity of life. This
should make us beware, see more clearly and correct our
Tradition (on Sotah 12 a)
tells us, through the analysis of the repeated definite
article "the" ha, (Exodus 15, 20 Miriam the
prophetess, ha nevia), that Miriam danced when the children
of Israel crossed the red Sea with "the" same
tambourine with which she sang for joy when she persuaded
her father to have sexual relations again with her mother.
When they gain full liberation,
women will be acknowledged for the vital role they have
played in history; this is a lesson that is taught in
the Torah but has not yet been integrated in people's
minds. The many questions that ensue from this deserve
to be studied in depth.
4. The child, the "developing
The fourth point is based
on the Hebrew word for midwives -- meyaledot. This word
means "those who help to give birth, those who bring
to life." Each linguistic tradition is rich in meaning.
What is even more interesting,
is that the same root ("to deliver") is used
in Hebrew for the word "child." In Hebrew the
word for child or infant is yeled which could be translated
as the one who is "in a state of nascency = developing."
One can see that the role
of a child in Jewish civilization is very different than
that accorded to it in Latin languages, where the word
infant comes from the Latin in-fari which means "not
In consequence, our collective
subconscious views a child as someone who has not yet
acquired that which defines a human being -- the power
of speech, and as someone who cannot express himself in
his relations with others, as therefore as someone who
is not heard, and not understood. It is easy to understand
now, from this cultural perspective, why it took centuries
before the world began to pay attention to the needs and
psychological make-up of children and to realize that
children should not be treated as objects or put out to
work, but should be educated and taught how to read. Love
of children is not a natural trait or of individuals or
of society; witness the millions children in the world
who are still being abused and exploited in places of
work or in prostitution.
In contrast, because the Jewish
tradition, seen in its linguistic base, emphasizes the
long state of nascency of a child, one understands better
" the great importance accorded to children in Jewish
" the stress placed, from a very early age, on children's
education, particularly reading, even in times when non-Jews
were illiterate or without education;
" the role of the transmission of culture from a
very early age;
" the sometime excessive valorization of children,
" the fact that pregnant women go to synagogue so
that the foetus will hear early in his life the holy language
around him; the child is seen first and foremost as being
in a state of continual birth, and every day is considered
" the need of parents to continue this life process
through more births.
The child will continue to
be the center of attention until he reaches the age of
puberty (12 for a girl, 13 for a boy).
The program of instruction
which Jewish tradition believes a child is capable of
absorbing from a very young age is enormous and provides
him very quickly with a sound cultural base on which he
can build later, at the various stages of development.
Throughout the parasha, children
and births are important; the Creator's plan for humanity
was that man should remain a child, always in the process
of continually being born again.
The child therefore appears,
in this important text, as the key to the renewal of the
people, and to its continued renaissance. And we see that
God does not at all appreciate it when Moshe, as an adult,
begins to lose faith in his capacity to develop and believes
he will not succeed in speaking fluently or in convincing
Pharaoh. The rest of the text of the Torah will describe
this battle between God's demand for man to develop and
the tendency of the people to doubt, halt and go backwards,
preferring even to die in one place rather than risk moving
The children and women first,
then Moshe second, will be the creative forces of life.
5. Moshe's boldness in wanting
to know Hashem's name, and the answer he receives
The fifth point refers to
the name of God which Moshe desires to know. It is a sign
of Moshe's greatness that, amidst his difficulties, he
dares to ask God to tell him more about Himself than has
been revealed to all the patriarchs.
This boldness merits him praise
at the end of the five books for his strong hand (yad
hazaka) ; because of his incredible boldness, he is given
the honor of having the Torah named after him: Torat Moshe,
not the Torah of God.
This is also due to the fact
that Moshe, like all the people of Israel, knew that the
renewal described by Yosef at the end of Bereshit would
take place, pakod yifkod Elokim etkhem (Bereshit 50, 25
"Hashem will surely remember you"): the repetition
of the word pakod yifkod (intervenes, will intervene)
signifies that there would be a double intervention (pekida
kefula) and the one who proves himself to be the instrument
and the revelator will be the savior of Israel. Ribbi
Yaakov Abuhatzera analyzes this clearly in Mahasof halavan,
but I will not elaborate on it for his teaching is of
a higher level.
Moshe asks his question in
order to know if this is indeed the moment of the promised
He receives the answer: My
name is "ehiye asher ehiy, I am that I am."
At the moment when Moshe seeks guaranties on the future,
he is answered with a double phrase whose literal meaning
in Hebrew is: "I will be what I will be."
Without going into the meaning
revealed by each of the Hebrew letters, which is extremely
important, let us note that the answer Moshe receives
requires of him precisely what he sought to avoid: absolute
uncertainty, faith in an undefined, slow, uncertain trajectory.
The answer also teaches him
something very important: know that you will find your
success and confidence in this project; it is of great
comfort to a child (Moses the child, and the people the
children), faced with the long, uncertain, intimidating
trajectory of a lifetime, to hear that his parents feel
he is capable of always being true to himself in order
to succeed in whatever the future holds for him. This
is the potential that resides in the name given to a child
On hearing this answer, Moshe
must have realized that he had already been given this
comfort before verse 3, 14. Indeed in verse 3, 12 the
word ehiye had already been given to him, in the role
of accompaniment and support but Moshe only saw in it
a word of encouragement and not the name of Hashem:
"And Moshe said unto God: 'ho am I, that I should
go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children
of Israel out of Egypt?'And He said: 'Certainly I will be with thee, and this
shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee."
Emuna, the Jewish approach
The lesson given to Moshe
is that of emuna, absolute trust in God that he will carry
out his promises. Indeed, confronted with the most difficult
challenge of having to free themselves from a political
and cultural prison, as well as from the prison of one's
own lack of confidence, the Jews are told
" to have absolute trust
" that they will be accompanied along the way
" by the One who will never reveal himself.
Each of these three concepts
have equal importance and cannot take precedence over
each other. The kabbalists note that the name ehiye is
the most supreme and secret name, but at the same time
it is the one that gives forth the other names which are
manifestations of divine intervention.
This inseparable mixture of
what is unknown and what is known and intimate, which
we have seen expressed in the Hebrew language, expresses
well the Jewish approach. Judaism can never make any concession
on either of these two points (lack of knowledge and intimacy).
The basis of love
This takes us back to Rashi's
first point. Are not these two simultaneous criteria (trusting
proximity and uncertain future) the basis of love? Believing
everything we have seen, heard or felt in someone else,
but at the same time knowing we have not really heard
fully or seen fully, and constantly yearning to hear and
see more; this is when there is "love" between
two people and they remain faithful to it despite apparent
changes, and set out on a long, eventful journey they
will share together. The memory of the first words that
were exchanged will always remain the basis f their mutual
emuna which is the source of beauty, strength and happiness.
But in order to be capable
of this, one must be able to say as Moshe did in front
of the burning bush: "I will turn aside now, and
see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt"
(3, 3); in other words, I will turn away from myself,
draw near and then far in order to see this great phenomenon
and ask questions..
He who is prepared to leave
his normal road and the things he is sure about in order
to go towards what is new, towards the other person and
ask questions, is able to love in a constantly renewed
love, is able to hear "here am I," and experiences
what is koddesh - holy. This is exactly what is described
in the Song of Songs, when after the blockages of silence,
"the time of the singing of birds has arrived' (2,
12) and "my vineyard
.is before me" (8,
Moving towards a new identity
How should this be understood?
It means that a person who loves has left his personal,
individual, solitary place and has moved to a shared place,
a double place (mahanayim). He has left his permanent
place of residence, as Moshe did when he turned towards
the burning bush, and he becomes 'another place."
God is called makom, place, in Judaism and the Pesah Haggada
reminds of this when the Jewish people are forced to move.
Furthermore, God is THE place
in which our place and our nature are located; this is
what is called "panentheism" (a theme developed
by Andre Neher).
Love is a continual process
of renewal and change, because the place we have in common
is always a changing one, as it is also the place of the
other whom I cannot possess or imprison. To love or to
be Jewish, does not mean to "believe that Judaism
is this or that
" It means "to be in this
shared place makom (God)." The individual "I"
is "I" + the "I" which is within the
This is made clearer in the
phrase ehiye imakh (I will be with thee): instead of the
little "thee," there will from now on be with
you, at every moment and for always, I who am ehiye: become
part of this ehiye imakh and you will never be abandoned
and I will never abandon you.
The Psalms describe David's
struggle with God in this respect. Man constantly vacillates,
but this process is a positive disequilibrium.
It is difficult for man to
live according to this concept of love, which is the essence
of Judaism (veahavta et adonut eloheikha, and thou shalt
love the Lord thy God, Devarim 6, 5) and to accept this
eternal relationship, this trust in love that is received,
and this faith in the word of God even when there is no
visible or felt presence, and even when we undergo disappointment,
failure and betrayal.
It is difficult because we
have an unsteady sense of this larger, loving state, and
a strong sense of our weakness; as we said above, man
is often drawn towards failure rather than to trusting
in love, happiness and renewed life. Each one of the figures
in this parasha confronts the same challenges.
Judaism, and this parasha,
offer us a greatly enlarged identity: from "I"
to "us in the makom." This enlarged identity
is given many names:
" Your "house"
(ashre yoshev veitekha, happy are those who live Your
house, Psalm 84, as translated by the Hida),
" Your "sanctuary" (that they may make
me a sanctuary and I shall dwell among them),
" Your "name" (the expression "in
Your name" is repeated often).
The challenge is not to think
in this way but to constantly but oneself in this frame
of mind, as is written: "shiviti adonut le negdi
tamid, I have set Hashem always before me," (Psalem
16.8). The word shiviti stresses the fact that we must
make an effort within ourselves to feel the presence which
is found in the four founding letters of life
So that we remember to do
this, the Sages suggest that we put this phrase with the
name of Hashem in as many places as possible in our homes.
In contrast, the name ehiye which was revealed to Moshe,
and which is the source of all the other names off God,
is less visual and of more inner comfort.
It is remarkable to note that
the people of Israel were founded and liberated because
they had understood the meaning of these important concepts:
it is this which led to their "liberation."
The reason why so many nations have disappeared from history
is because they did not attain this science of renewal,
even if some of their sages and philosophers preached
It is a great joy to live
among a people who possess so great an awareness of live
and of eternal renewal.
Exercise in integration
This parasha teaches us to
examine our awareness and trust in the words of others,
and to find out:
" whether we understand these inner levels in the
words of others,
" whether we take the time to encourage others and
ourselves to respond to these different levels of what
is said and heard, to know ourselves "in depth,"
" whether we encourage our ability to constantly
" whether we are attentive to the growth of those
" whether our trust in the words of those we love
is an essential part of us,
" whether we find the time and the means to listen
to ourselves and to others in order that the relationship
of words and love becomes the place of our constantly
renewed being, among a renewed people.
We see here to what extent
there is an inter-relationship between the psychological
development of man, his moral development through the
Torah, and his social development as a member of the Jewish
All this is taught to us in
But we need to make a great
effort in our minds and in our hearts in order to understand
this, and the "art of listening and analyzing"
helps a lot. It is not enough to read the Torah piously;
we must understand it, which means we must study till
we fully understand; this is the meaning of the verb shema.
For those who believe that
we do not need to use all the gifts the Creator gave us
in order to understand the Torah, mankind and oneself,
I will simply quote from Tractate Shabbat 75 a: "R.
Shimon ben Pazi, in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi in
the name of bar Kappara, said: 'He who has learnt astronomy
and does not practice this science is described by this
verse 'they regard not the work of Hashem, neither consider
the operation of his hands" (Isaiah 5, 12)."
All the great Sages of Spain,
in particular as well as many others, knew how to balance
these sciences and arts in order to live fully through
and with the Torah.
Exercise in memorization
Veele shemot bene Yisrael. Af-al-pi shemenaan behayehem
bishemotam, hazar umenaan bemitatan, lehodia hibatan
"Now these are the names of the children of Israel:
even though they were counted during their lifetime by
their names, they are counted again after their death
in order to demonstrate the affection for them
Rashi's commentary on the first verse of Shemot.
I will be with thee (Shemot 3, 12).
ashre yoshevei veitekha
happy are those who live Your house (Psalm 84).
Broaden your knowledge of
(based on the use of the word
hiba in Rashi's commentary)
" love: ahava
" affection: hiba
" love for the land of Israel: hibat tzion
" intimate love: ahavat nefesh
" love of one's neighbor: ahavat azulat
" soul friend: yedid nefesh
" "my" friend, my soul friend: yedid nafshi
" beloved friend: mahmad libi
" friendship: yedidut