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5 aspects of the book of Exodus that we begin reading on Shabbat

5 דברים על ספר שמות

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

1. Mazal tov. We completed the book of Genesis (Bereshit) last week and now begin to read the book of Exodus (Shemot), the second of the Five Books of Moses. It is known as "the book of exile and redemption" since it describes our enslavement in Egypt followed by our going out from slavery to freedom.
2. This week we meet Moshe Rabbeinu. The greatest leader of the Jewish people ascends the world stage with a "heavy mouth," heavy tongue," and "sealed lips." In other words, true leadership is not about having a talent for public speaking, but about character.
3. After all the animosity between brothers in the book of Genesis, the book of Exodus introduces us to three unique figures who will lead the people in the desert for forty years -- the brothers Moshe and Aaron, and their sister Miriam. This is a different model of leadership, based on sibling harmony and cooperation. It's proof that working together as a family is possible.
4. The women in this week's Torah portion play leading roles: the Hebrew midwives refuse Pharaoh's order to kill the Hebrew newborns, coddling and nurturing them instead; Yocheved, Moses' mother, hides him after he is born; Moses' sister Miriam watches over him while he floats in his basket on the Nile River. Our sages conclude that "In the merit of righteous women, Israel was redeemed from Egypt." It's a testimony to the centrality of women in the life of the nation for all time.
5. The book of Exodus is not a history book. It describes the stages in the process of liberation that all of us must go through, as individuals and as a nation, even today. Each of us is shackled by a particular form of slavery or addiction and must embark on a personal journey to freedom. In the book "Netivot Shalom" (Paths of Peace), it is written: "All the missions for which a human being descends into this world are meant to take him out of Egypt." Leaving Egypt is a never-ending challenge, to be confronted anew and overcome each day.
And now Shabbat arrives, our weekly exodus from slavery to freedom. Shabbat shalom.


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