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Above It All

By: Ms. Rachel Siegel

Last week we began the second book of the five books of the Torah. Sefer Shemot relates the genesis of the Jewish people. Its main topics include the supernatural exodus from their enslavement in Egypt, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the building of the Mishkan, a  place in which the new nation could serve G‑d in the desert.

Sefer Shemot literally translates into the “Book of Names”, presumably because Sefer Shemot is the book in which our identity, or name, as a nation is forged.

Ironically, though, the majority of Parshat Shemot is filled with anonymity until Moshe encounters the burning bush in the third Perek. The narrative begins with a new, unnamed king taking over Egypt who continues to be referred to as the king of Egypt, rather than by name, or even as Paroh, throughout the first perek (1:8, 1:15, 1:17, 1:18). When this anonymous king of Egypt commands the midwives to kill any boy born to a Jew, they are referred to as Shifra and Puah, two names that we know so little about that Rashi feels the need to comment that these two midwives are in fact Yocheved and Miryam, Moshe’s mother and Moshe’s sister (1:15). After this passuk, the midwives are never referred to by name, but rather as “the midwives” (1:17, 1:18, 1:19, 1:20, 1:21). Further, the story of the birth of Moshe begins with an anonymous man from the house of Levi marrying an anonymous daughter of Levi (2:1). Then, this anonymous women gives birth to a son that doesn’t have a name, and the ensuing psukkim refer to the son as “him,” or “the boy” (2:2-10). The person that saves Moshe from the river is none other than the nameless daughter of Paroh, and Moshe’s nameless sister, who watched this entire event unfold, offers to fetch a nameless midwife from the Jewish people that happens to be the nameless mother of the child, to nurse the nameless boy (2:5-8). Once Moshe grows up, he goes out and sees an Egyptian hit a Jew, both of whom remain nameless, only to go out the next day and encounter two Jewish men that seem to be fighting, both of whom remain nameless as well (2:11-13). At this point, Moshe runs away to Midyan, where he is referred to as an “Egyptian man,” and it is there that he encounters Yitro, who is referred to as the priest of Midyan, as well as Reuel, one of his supposed seven names, and “the man,” but not as Yitro (2:19, 2:16, 2:18, 2:21). It is only until the third perek, where G-d reveals Himself to Moshe at the burning bush, that the Torah seems to revert back to using character names, with the few exceptions of Moshe being mentioned by name in the context of him killing the Egyptian and running away from Paroh, as well as when he married Tzippora (2:12, 2:15, 2:21).

This anonymity draws our attention to the times that Moshe is mentioned by name, and even more poignantly towards the encounter of the burning bush, when the anonymity seems to cease. Moreover, this concept isn’t the only thing that highlights the importance of the burning bush. If you divide the parsha by topic, it breaks down into ten different topics. According to this breakdown, the two topics that fall out exactly in the middle of the parsha are G-d’s revelation to Moshe at the burning bush, and Moshe leaving Midyan to bring Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt.

What is it that this anonymity is attempting to highlight?

I believe an answer lies within Rabbi Leibtag’s delineation of the two central purposes of Yitziyat Mitzrayim. The more explicit purpose is the fulfillment of Brit Bain Habetarim, that Bnei Yisrael return to Eretz Canaan and become God's chosen nation (3:8).

Moshe is mentioned by name during instances in which he relates to the Jewish people, and perhaps instances that are associated with the fulfillment of his mission to take Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. For example, Moshe is only named once the daughter of Paroh determines that he is a Jew and he is nursed by a Jew. It is also in the same pasuk that the daughter of Paroh adopted Moshe as a son, ultimately saving him from slavery, and therefore enabling him to become the future savior of the Jewish people.

As we see the beginning of the process of Bnei Yisrael becoming G-d’s special nation, it makes sense that the characters are relatively anonymous and that Moshe is only mentioned explicitly by name when relating to this developing nation. It would seem that Sefer Shemot is strictly about Bnei Yisrael as a nation, and to focus on any one individual would take away from that. This is in stark contrast to the theme found in Sefer Breishit where G-d chooses specific individuals to be the direct line of His great nation. Instead, Shemot is about bnei Yisrael becoming this special nation, and it is no longer about the individual characters.

The more implicit purpose can be extrapolated by questioning why Moshe must confront Pharaoh in the first place. If the entire purpose of Yetziat Mitzrayim was to bring Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Canaan, why involve Pharaoh in the exodus? G-d could have taken Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt without official permission.

Nevertheless, when G-d appears to Moshe at the burning bush He insists upon Bnei Yisrael's receiving Pharaoh's approval to leave. Moshe must teach Pharaoh that any people should have the right to worship God freely (insert passuk about them going to serve G-d in the desert for three days). The fact that the king of the world superpower at that time refuses this request shows that he views himself above his fellow man, kind of like a god. Therefore, the exodus was a means for G-d to demonstrate to Pharaoh and the Egyptians, that He is Hashem, as it says, (7:5) . The second goal of Yetziat Mitzrayim is for Egypt to realize that God is above all Man. Moshe must deliver this message to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people, in God's Name.

This must mean therefore, that our identity, or name, as a nation cannot be forged until the rest of the world understands that G-d is above man. As the nation of Israel it is our purpose to establish a society that facilitates our ability to act as a light unto the nations, to help bring man to recognize G-d. Therefore, it is befitting that at the beginning of the sefer in which Bnei Yisrael becomes a nation and finds its name and identity, the process forces other nations, specifically Egypt, to recognize G-d as well.

As a madricha in Midreshet Moriah this year, I have watched 71 incredible girls search for their own identity and slowly make a name for themselves. I think it is fitting that we started Sefer Shemot soon after the departure of Shana Bet. Shana Bet served as a tremendous asset to our Shana Alef girls the first half of the year, helping the students adjust, learn, and make new friends. However, even though we miss them, the second half the year will be solely about the 71 Shana Alef girls continuing to find themselves and make a name for themselves, and I already see them filling the holes that Shana Bet left, but in their own individual ways. I cannot wait to continue watching them grow and learn about themselves in the next few months, as they continue this exciting process that they have been navigating so well.

Shabbat Shalom!





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