Friday, December 24, 2010

Parsha Notes Shmos 2010

- At the start of the parsha, the 11 sons of Jacob (1:2-4) are arranged in two groups of four, with a group of three in the middle (Alter)

- The words: וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, פָּרוּ וַיִּשְׁרְצוּ וַיִּרְבּוּ וַיַּעַצְמוּ--בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד; וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ, אֹתָם (And the sons of Israel were fruitful, and swarmed and multiplied, and grew very vast; and the land was filled with them)are a reference to the creation story and the promise to Abraham.
- In the Flood story, all of humankind is nearly drowned, with the last remnant surviving on an ark. Here, the people of Israel are imperiled after Pharaoh orders the drowning of all their male children; meanwhile, their savior survives in an ark. (In both places the vessel is called a "tayva.")

Two Way Torah
- When the daughter of Pharoh looks into the basket, we're told "v'hinay na'ar bocheh". Most take this to mean, "and behold the boy [i.e. Moshe] was crying. An infant, however, is never called a na'ar. This leads someone (forget who) to say that the crying boy was actually Aaron, who was standing on the river side watching.
- Before Moshe murders the Egyptian who was beating an Israelite man, the verse says that "he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one." Typically, we understand "Moshe" as the antecedent for the pronoun "he". Some, however, point out that there has to be something unique about this particular incident; presumably Egyptians beat Israelite all the time: Why did Moshe interfere this time? Perhaps because such attacks were actually forbidden by Egyptian law, a possibility suggested if the words are instead read "[and the Egyptian] looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one." After checking to see that no one was around, the Egyptian proceeded with his illegal attack on the Israelite. Moshe interfered this particular time, because such attacks were illegal and therefore unusual. 

- The betrothal scene returns this week. Again, our hero is at the well in a foreign land, where he once again performs an act of physical valor. Again, he is greeted by a woman who hurries home with news of his arrival, and again the betrothal is agreed to after a meal. This time, though, the usual young woman is multiplied by the formulaic seven.

- Moshe is an authentic, ancient Egyptian name, which means "the one who is born" , i.e. "son."(Alter)

As Alter shrewdly points out Moshe, from infancy, is associated with water. The water saves him, it's where the plagues began, and a barrier of water must be crossed by the fleeing Hebrews, water that collapses on the pursuing Egyptians and drowns them just as Hebrew boys were drowned. Egypt, too, is associated with water, the Nile especially, and after their escape, the former slaves remember Egypt as a well-watered place of fish, melons, and cucumbers.The wilderness, on the other hand, is noted for dryness. Moshe first meets God on a mountain called Horeb, which, per ibn Ezra, means "parched place" and at this first meeting, God reveals himself through fire. Later, at the culmination of the narrative, the mountain (now called Sinai; a pun Alter suggests on sneh) is surrounded by divine fire. For more on this, with an assist from a satellite map, click here

- Though the verse (1:10) says "Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country" Rashi, based on Sotah 11a, emends it as follows "And it is as if it were written: and we will depart from the land, and they will take possession of it."
- The text presents Shifra and Puah as the only Hebrew midwives, though as Ibn Ezra points out, they would have had to be leaders of much larger squads.
- When he meet Moshe's father in-law he is called Reuel. In the next episode his name is Jethro.
- In Chapter 3, the mountain of God is called Horeb. Later it is Sinai.
- The whole "chatam domim l'molis" story is a bizarre mystery, written in a crabbed style that suggests the narrative is alluding to well-known story. James Kugel says its an etiological tale, created to defend the idea of infant circumcision. As Kukel tells it, the well known expression "חֲתַ֥ן דָּמִ֖ים לַמּוּלֹֽת" seemed to suggest that circumcision was done to adults, not children. This story then, with its explanation of the expression (Kugel translates "אָ֚ז אָֽמְרָ֔ה"  as "it was then she said"), was created to establish that the words "חֲתַ֥ן דָּמִ֖ים לַמּוּלֹֽת" are really no defense of adult circumcision. 

Tell your kids
- The Rabbis darshaned that when Pharaoh's daughter saw the floating basket, which contained the infant Moshe, she stretched out her arm and it magically became lengthened to allow her to reach the baby. Rashi cites the midrash, points out that the grammar doesn't support the drash, and says the plain meaning of the verse is that she sent a maidservant to get the basket. Other mephorshim also disagree with the midrash

- Moshe asks to be allowed to take the Hebrews on a three days' journey into the wilderness. This does not mean, as if often supposed, that they plan to be away for three days. What's actually intended is a three day trip into the desert, a day of prayer, and a three day journey back, thus 7 days away from work.

- Its really ok if you change your names: There's plenty of evidence that the Israelites took Egyptian names.

Understanding Rashi
- Rashi identifies the midwives as Miriam and Yocheved. This is because the text (1:21) tells us: [God] made for them batim, meaning households or lineagesYocheved is matriarch of the priests and levites, and King David is a descendant of Miriam.
- The verse says Moshe's mother saw he was good. Rashi doesn't take this at face value. Here's the how and why.
- The verse says the King of Egypt died. Rashi says all this means is that he contracted leprosy. Here's why.
- Who was Moshe's Pharaoh?

- Moshe's floating among the reeds, foretells his great victory at the Sea of Reeds.
- At the well, Moshe saves seven sisters, fitting his future role as savior of his people.

- Pharaoh demanded that all Hebrew males be thrown into the river, but the carrying out of this command is precisely what saved Moshe.

External parallels
- Both Moshe and Sargon are sent floating down a river, rescued, and grow up to save their people. In this post I say "So what?"

Two way Torah
- What was Yocheved thinking when she put Moshe in the water? There are at least two ways to read her story, each having some support from the classic commenters.

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