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Parashat Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

“Now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover,
I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them.” (Exodus 3:9)

Parashat Sh’mot opens Exodus, the second book of the Torah. It introduces Moses, one of the Torah’s central characters. Sh’mot also introduces God in a new way, with great implications for Jewish theology and thought.

Moses encounters God for the first time in the episode of the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-4:19). God charges Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, which means Moses has to accomplish two things: he must persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites and he must persuade the Israelites to trust in God. Since Moses knows names carry power, he asks God, reasonably, what name to use with the Israelites (Ex. 3: 13). God responds, “Eheye asher eheyeh…, I shall be as I shall be…” (Ex. 3:14), which sounds pretty cryptic and not particularly compelling.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) explains: the use of the future tense (I shall be) teaches whatever (or whomever) God is today does not limit what God can become. God is not static; God has absolute freedom to evolve. Hirsch extends this limitless possibility to humanity. Being created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), means each individual also possesses a measure of free will (not as absolute as God’s, but free will nonetheless) and can make decisions to change and to influence the future.

Sh’mot re-introduces God to the Israelites as the active and creative driver of history. Sh’mot’s lesson is that ability—and responsibility–to change the world also inheres within each individual. God is moved to act by the moaning of the Israelites (Ex. 2:24-25). What moves you?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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