“A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” (Exodus 1:8)
Parashat Sh’mot opens the second book of the Torah (also called Sh’mot) by describing Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Children of Israel. God’s choice of Moses to lead them to freedom provides a subtle continuity with the book of Genesis and offers a challenge to Jews today.
Moses is an unlikely candidate for leadership when he encounters God in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2-4:17): he’s an adopted royal on the lam for a vigilante murder working as a shepherd in Midian. God picks him because Moses demonstrates, three times, a principled dedication to justice.
Moses acts–at great risk to himself–when an Egyptian taskmaster beats an Israelite slave (Ex. 2:11, 12). He next attempts to intervene when he sees two Israelites quarreling (Ex. 2: 13, 14). Finally, he protects a group of Midianite women when they are threatened by some local hoodlums (Ex. 2:16-17). In each case, Moses anticipates the rabbinic mandate, “Where there is no man, try to be one (Pirkei Avot 2:5). The last response is most significant, though, because it shows Moses’ concern, compassion, and commitment to justice extends beyond his own kinship group to total strangers—and even foreigners. This is the connection to Genesis: Moses is fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, “…and you shall be a blessing … and all the families of the earth will be blessed by you.” (Gen. 12: 1, 2) and that impresses God.
God chooses Moses less for the immediate job of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt (although that is important) than for the ultimate goal of bringing blessings, through Torah, to all peoples.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom