Parashat Shemot Erev Shabbat 24 December 2021 (5782)
Week of 19-25 December 2021
Torah portion: Exodus  1:1-6 :1  Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13 ; 29:22-23
Theme: “The daughter of Pharaoh took pity on the child

We may remember this as the story of ‘Moses in the bulrushes’ commemorated in the portable cradle known as a “Moses basket”. And indeed it is here that we read how he got his name. But we are not told the name of the woman who named him.  We know her only as ‘Pharaoh’s daughter’.  We do not learn that the mother and sister of Moses are called Jochebed and Miriam until further on (Ex. 6:20, Num. 26:59, 1 Chron. 6:3). To quote Rabbi Drorah Setel:

“Numerous women make their appearance in the Exodus narrative in conjunction with the childhood of Moses. It is these women who make possible the survival and growth of the central character in the Exodus narrative, yet in contrast to Shiphrah and Puah, they are not named.  They are presented as the mother, sister, daughter, or servant…Moses’ adoptive mother is never named, although ironically it is she who names him.  She serves as a symmetrical counterpart to the woman who gives birth to the child and places him in the water, as she draws him up and raises him. The relationship between these two mothers is mediated through the sister.  The concerns and activities of these women seem to take place in a distinct setting apart from male influence or authority.”  (Setel, 30)

In a version of the Bible written for children, the mother of Moses evades male authority by following the letter but not the spirit of Pharaoh’s decree, as follows: “There was one Hebrew mother who was more than a match for Pharaoh….”If my baby has to go in the river so be it,” she said, “but I’m going to make him a boat first!” (Knowles, 102) She knows, as everybody in Egypt knows, that Pharaoh is to be obeyed, yet with courage and imagination she finds a way of obeying without really obeying.  Then her daughter negotiates a relationship with Pharaoh’s daughter and baby Moses is safe. In contrast, when the baby grows up, he challenges the regime directly, by killing an Egyptian who is beating an enslaved Hebrew (Ex.2:11-12). Pharaoh’s authority is enforced by violence and Moses responds violently. Living in Pharaoh’s palace, he can co-operate with the Egyptians. On the street, he cannot.  Fearing punishment, he flees and so sets in motion the events that will lead to the exodus of his people from Egypt.  He will return to challenge Pharaoh directly.  When Pharaoh does not relent, he and his people are battered mercilessly by the series of plagues.  These culminate in that terrible night when “the lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon…there was not a house without someone dead.” (Ex.12:30)

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Are there ways in which your own circumstances or those of your fellow citizens are like life in Pharaoh’s Egypt? How might life be changed for the better in a just and peaceful way?  2.  Think of the brave women and men who are not afraid to speak the truth to power, such as the new Nobel Peace Laureate, Maria Ressa. What can you learn from them to deal with your situation?

Bibliography: Knowles, Andrew, Fount Children’s Bible (London, 1981); Setel, Drorar, “Exodus” in Newsome, Carol A. and Sharon H. Ringe, ed., The Women’s Bible Commentary (Louisville KY: 1992);

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton
, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010

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