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    Another book of creation – Sh’mot

    January 15th, 2017

    chumash shemotThis week’s sidra brings us into the second book of the Torah, Sh’mot (Exodus). Like the first book, B’reshit (Genesis), this one is also focused on Creation.

    In Genesis, God applies His Divine wisdom to creating a world that will worship Him. In Exodus, man uses his human wisdom to create a community centred on the worship of God.

    As God used wisdom, understanding and knowledge to create His world, so in Exodus man must use his refraction of the same qualities to build a community.

    Rashi defines wisdom, chochmah, as what one learns from others; understanding, t’vunah, as finding the meaning in what one has learnt; and knowledge, da’at, as inspiration.

    Some expand Rashi by explaining that chochmah comes from others, t’vunah from oneself and da’at from God.

    Your three names – Sh’mot

    January 15th, 2017

    name labelParashat Sh’mot (“Names”) reminds me that we once lived in a street with a dry cleaners around the corner.

    As my job entailed wearing a suit every day, I often took my suits to the dry cleaners. Obviously they needed my name but there came a time when it was ridiculous. I was a regular and surely the woman behind the counter should be able to remember who I was. But no, she barked at me every time, “What’s your name?”

    Eventually I gave up expecting her to remember me but I started asking myself, “What’s your name?”

    The woman in the shop wasn’t to know that the Jewish sages said that everyone has three names, the name your parents give you, the name others call you, and the name you acquire for yourself (Kohelet Rabbah 7:1).

    The first name is beyond your control. So (generally) is the second, but the third is up to you.

    How you live life defines your identity. The values you espouse indicate your character.

    The Midrash is right: the earned name is more valuable than the given name (Kohelet Rabbah 7:4).

    Moses the Egyptian – Sh’mot

    January 15th, 2017

    Moses at the well, Sandro Botticelli 1481-2

    Moses at the well, Sandro Botticelli 1481-2

    The daughters of Yitro came home from their water-drawing earlier than usual, telling their family, “An Egyptian man helped us” (Ex. 2:19).

    How did they know that Moses who stepped forth to assist them, was an Egyptian?

    Maybe he had an Egyptian accent, maybe he was wearing Egyptian-style clothing. Maybe he told them where he came from.

    It hardly surprises us that two verses later the stranger from nowhere falls in love with one of the daughters and marries her. Highly romantic, but it doesn’t really explain how they knew he was an Egyptian.

    Perhaps he had such manners that the girls knew at once that he wasn’t a local. More importantly, he was so helpful that they thought, “No-one from around here does so much for other people”.

    Why do they call him an Egyptian? Possibly their father, with his own Egyptian experience, had told them that Egyptian young men were polite and well brought up.

    His last wish – Vayyechi

    January 8th, 2017

    Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed (Figures de la Bible, 1728)

    Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed (Figures de la Bible, 1728)

    Jacob dwelt in Egypt seventeen years. A turbulent life was reaching its sunset. Aggravation was behind him. He settled down to a quiet retirement. Joseph and the family were there to care for him.

    But one thing was constantly on his mind – what would befall them all after he was gone?

    The rabbis acknowledge this worry in the Midrash about how the Shema Yisra’el came into being.

    Obsessed with the fear that his children and grandchildren might drift from or abandon the beliefs and ethical values that he stood for, Jacob wept and wondered. That’s why his family tried to reassure him.

    Shema Yisra’el! they said, “Listen, Israel (the alternative name for Jacob)! Listen, HaShem Elokenu HaShem EchadHaShem is our God, the One, Unique HaShem!”

    Their hearts were in the right place, their faith was intact, their lives were committed to the Almighty.

    Whatever happened to the family, whatever befell their existence in Egypt and their hope of one day returning to Eretz Yisra’el, Jacob could die with a smile on his lips.

    Divine salvation – Vayyechi

    January 8th, 2017

    lishuatchaChapter 49 verse 18 has three Hebrew words that translate, “For Your salvation I wait, O Lord”.

    The commentators attempt to formulate a historical explanation, locating the statement in the context of a particular period.

    One can also take it as a Jewish cri-de-coeur. It says that despite all the challenges and changes that await the Jewish people, they will never give in or give up. There will come a moment when the messianic dreams will come true, when there will be no more sorrow or sighing.

    Jerusalem will be the focus of the world and God’s rule will be universal.