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Parashat Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

“God said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt, for all the people who seek your life have died.”  (Exodus 4:19)

Parashat Sh’mot is the first parasha, or portion, in the book of Exodus.  It describes the abrupt change in status of the Children of Israel while in Egypt and narrates the precipitating event: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Ex. 1:8)  Early commentators focus on the p’shat, or plain meaning, of the text and wonder whether this pharaoh is a new ruler unaware of Joseph’s contribution to Egypt policies (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 11a), or the same ruler who makes the Israelites strangers in Egypt, even though they’ve been living in Goshen for three generations (Exodus Rabbah 1:4).

However, you can also read the verse as an allegory: Pharaoh represents power and Joseph represents history.  Now the text poses a more universal question:  can power retain its authority when it is disconnected from history?  Pharaoh assumes he stands above history, but since God ultimately destroys him with the ten plagues, the answer appears to be no.

Nehama Leibovitz (1905-1997; a scholar who revolutionized the teaching of the weekly Torah portion worldwide) says you should view the events of the week through the prism of Parashat Hashavua, the weekly Torah portion.  It is easy to do this week, what with the swearing-in of a 45th US president on Friday.

Jewish thought has always stressed the importance of remembering.  The Jewish Bible commands zachor, remember, 169 times.  It views history not as something frozen in time, but as a living, teaching tool, illustrating the right thing to do and suggesting the best way to do the right thing.  No one is above history.  Kein y’hi ratzon, so may it be.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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