Shemot 2018

Torah Portion: Shabbat: Shemot/Exodus 1

In the beginning of  Shemot, we read of the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt by Pharaoh, as well as the birth of Moses and God’s selection of Moses to lead the people out of Egyptian bondage.

The story seems straightforward, although there are a few bumps along the way. God tells Moses at the Burning Bush that he will lead the people out of Egypt, and that Pharaoh will not let the people go until the Al-mighty performs a series of wonders. After that, Pharaoh and the Egyptians will expel the Israelites and even chase them out of Egypt.

Because of his special relationship with Pharaoh, Moses had hoped that he, as an adopted Egyptian, would be able to convince the Egyptian sovereign to let the Hebrew people go. God, however, felt that it must not be Moses the Egyptian, but Moses the strong and proud Jew, who would lead His children out of bondage.

Because of the rapidly increasing Jewish birthrate, the new king of Egypt, who did not know Joseph, thought that the Children of Israel were growing too numerous and too strong and had become a security threat to his people.


Moses grows up and goes out to his brothers and sees their suffering. He sees an Egyptian beating one of his brothers, a Hebrew. He turns one way and the other, to make certain that no one is watching, kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand. Moses was concerned that no one would witness his deed, because he still hoped to pass as an Egyptian. But, once he kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew, he could never get away with pretending that he was Egyptian.

That is exactly what happens the next day. When Moses sees two Jews fighting, he intervenes, condemning the fighters. One of them said, Exodus 2:14, “Who made you an officer and judge over us? Do you want to kill us like you killed the Egyptian?” Moses knew that the thing was now known, and was afraid.

If Moses was fearful, why didn’t he run at that moment?

Only afterward, when Pharaoh heard of the incident, and sought to kill him (Exodus 2:15), did Moses flee, because now, he was certain that the jig was up, and that he could never again pass as an Egyptian.

When Moses says to God, in Exodus 3:11, מִי אָנֹכִי כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל פַּרְעֹה, וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּצְרָיִם , “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh that I should take the Children of Israel out of Egypt?” the rabbi interprets this as if Moses is asking God, whether he should go as an Egyptian or as a Jew? God tells him that even though it will cause additional hardship for the Jewish people, and Pharaoh will refuse, he must go as a Jew.