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Burning bush

Why Should Leaders Get Close to Those Who Suffer?

After the individual sagas that comprise so much of Genesis — Joseph’s story alone consumes the better part of 19 chapters — the speed at which the Israelites’ fortune reverses at the beginning of Exodus is stunning. And all it takes is one verse. In this week’s portion, Parashat Sh’motwe read: “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” (Ex.1:8)

D'var Torah By: 
There Are No Strangers, There Is Only Us
Davar Acher By: 
Stacey Zisook Robinson

I’m a middle-class Jewish kid from the suburbs of Chicago, raised with all the white privilege that ran rampant and quite unconscious in the 1960s and 1970s. It took a long time for me to actually get close to people different from me and to stand up for their rights. IRabbi Alexander discusses two people in Parashat Sh'mot who took the risk to help others who were less fortunate.

Understanding the Exodus as a Spiritual Journey

These concepts have played—and continue to play—their part in history, but they are based on readings of the text that, I believe, do not ring true today. 

D'var Torah By: 
Focusing on Morality in Building a Thriving Homeland
Davar Acher By: 
Chelsea Feuchs

In his commentary on Parashat Sh’mot, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald focuses in part on the issue of demography. The growth of the Israelites described in the Torah portion is threatening to Pharaoh, but many years later this type of expansion would come to be lauded by the Zionist movement. A single-minded focus on population growth led to Pharaoh’s murderous decree, and it also led to exploitative policies toward Mizrachim by the Ashkenazi elite in Israel. The old adage may state that demography is destiny, but a relentless focus on demography at the expense of morality has a far greater impact on the destiny of a nation.

The Limits of Control

In Parashat Sh’mot, we learn the Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt by a pharaoh who did not know Joseph. To gain some small degree of control, the Israelites examine their behavior for flaws that may have caused the situation.

D'var Torah By: 
The Power to Affirm Humanity
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Sara Y. Sapadin

In Parashat Sh'mot, the text describes the Israelites in a degrading manner, saying that they were so numerous they swarmed (like creatures that crawl on the ground). This dehumanizing description is countered by the text's favorable treatment of the Israelite midwives, who took individual initiative to save lives.

The First Heroes of Exodus

The Book of Exodus opens by creating a picture of the Israelites’ life in Egypt: who was there, where they came from, and what their connections were to the stories of Genesis. Then, we read the famed words, “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). In this single statement, the Torah signals the end of a period of peace and the beginning of an era oppression and slavery.

D'var Torah By: 
Rebels Who Are Actually Women of Valor
Davar Acher By: 
David Spinrad

As we near the end of the episode of Shiphrah and Puah’s bold defiance of Pharaoh’s decree to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew slave women, the Torah teaches that God “dealt well [vayeitev] with the midwives” (Exodus 1:20). Because Shiphrah and Puah’s reverential awe for the Eternal was greater than their fear of defying Pharaoh’s awful edict, the text explains that God made households for them as their initial reward. 

How Humble Is Too Humble?

When we open the Book of Exodus this week, and turn to Parashat Sh'mot, we find that the Israelites are suffering under the tyranny of ego. Pharaoh, a despot who believes himself to be more powerful than God – indeed, he believes that he is a god himself – has enslaved the Israelites in order to secure his own power.

In this context, I find it particularly fitting that the leader who emerges to help the Israelites escape from Egyptian slavery is Moses, whom the Torah describes as "a very humble man, more so than any other human being on earth" (Numbers 12:3). While Pharaoh's first words in Exodus are focused on oppressing the Israelites to consolidate his own power, our introduction to Moses in this week's Torah portion highlights Moses' humility and his doubts about stepping into leadership. No one can accuse Moses of being a rival to Pharaoh, of leading the Jewish people for his own self-aggrandizement. When God calls to Moses at the Burning Bush and charges him with the mission of going to Pharaoh and demanding the Israelites' freedom, Moses humbly shrugs off the mantle of leadership five times (See Exodus 3:11, 13; 4:1; 4:10; 4:13).

D'var Torah By: 
This Little Light of Mine
Davar Acher By: 
Stephen J. Weisman

Rabbi Kalisch challenges us to explore the balance between ego and humility. Her message recalls the words of the noted author and spiritual teacher, Marianne Williamson – "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, . . . born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us."

These words connect the challenge here at the start of Exodus to difficult concepts in Genesis 1, among them, the creation of humanity in the "image" of our incorporeal God. When we embrace the spark of the Divine that is within each of us, letting it out from within ourselves to enlighten the world, then we begin to take on God's "image."

To do this requires us to let our own light out for others to see and to be aware that all the people we meet have a Divine spark within them, equally worthy of being shared. As we grow into our roles as God's partners in Creation, ceasing to shrink from either challenge or opportunity, we must be careful not to violate the borders of others, allowing them the space they need to grow and shine.

Visions of Redemption

The last word of the Book of Genesis is b'Mitzrayim, "in Egypt," and that is where we find the Israelites at the beginning of the Book of Exodus.

D'var Torah By: 
Seeing Something Different
Davar Acher By: 
Carla Fenves

Rabbi Dreyfus artfully explores the importance of vision in this week's Torah portion. However, there is one moment of seeing that gives me pause. In Exodus 2:11-12:

Who Is This God? “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh”

The Book of Exodus (Sh'mot) tells two key narratives of Jewish sacred history: the Exodus from Egypt and the gift of Torah. When they are joined to the Creation narrative of Genesis, the three stories constitute the basic theology of Judaism, which is enshrined in the blessings before and after the Sh'ma prayer.

D'var Torah By: 
Torah Study and Other Mitzvot Channel Divine Empathy into Human Souls
Davar Acher By: 
Richard M. Litvak

Rabbi Knobel teaches that human and divine empathy need to work in concert for God's will, hopes, and dreams to become a reality.

Holding Out for a Hero?

If the Book of Exodus were a rock opera (and don't we all wish it were?), it might just start with the Israelite slaves joining together singing the words that Bonnie Tyler made so famous in the 1980s.
D'var Torah By: 
Women: Saving the Jewish Story by Upending It
Davar Acher By: 
Shira Milgrom

Rabbi Marci Bellows' observation that women form the core of heroic resistance to Pharaoh bears repeating and amplifying.


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