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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 13
Shemot: “These are the names”

Shemot (Exodus) 1, 1 - 6, 2

Development, the basis of Judaism


1. Number of words, letters… in Shemot
2. Position in the story
3. The 10 themes of the parasha
4. a. Rashi's commentary
5. Rejecting happiness
6. b. A nation-family
7. c. The role of women
8. d. The child, the state of nascency
9. e. Moshe's boldness and the answer he receives
10. Emuna, the Jewish approach
11. The basis of love
12. Moving towards a new identity
13. Exercise in integration
14. Exercise in memorization
15. Broaden your knowledge
16. Hebrew



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

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 household."

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 illustrates:

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 refusals..).

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 views.

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 one"

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 talking."

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 civilization;
" 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 his birthday,
" 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 forward.

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 redemption.

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 with love.

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, 12).

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 makom.

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.

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 renew ourselves,
" whether we are attentive to the growth of those we love,
" 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 people.

All this is taught to us in the Torah.

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.

ehiye imakha
I will be with thee (Shemot 3, 12).

ashre yoshevei veitekha
happy are those who live Your house (Psalm 84).


Broaden your knowledge of Hebrew

(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


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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