Parashat Shemot – Erev Shabbat 13 January 2023 (5783)
Week of 8-14 January 2023
Torah portion: Exodus 1 :1-6 :1 Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13 ; 29:22-23
Theme: Names of Heroes and the Divine Name
The Torah portion Shemot (Names) opens the book of Exodus which tells us about the defining story of God’s special divine protection of the Israelites and of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. As in the beginning of any great story, Shemot tells us the heroes in the story.
The leader who led the people to freedom is Moses, aided by his brother Aaron. Born when Hebrew baby boys were to be killed on the orders of the tyrannical Pharaoh, Moses would not have lived if not for five women who are called in Torah: A Women’s Commentary the saviors of Moses and hence of the people of Israel. They are the two midwives, Puah and Shiphrah; Moses’ mother, Jochebed; Moses’ sister, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter who despite huge personal risk practiced what we would call today “civil disobedience” to defy the orders of Pharaoh and save Moses.
Sarna (1991), notes that while the names of the midwives are recorded, the names of the reigning pharaohs are not. He says: “In the biblical scale of values these lowly champions of morality assume far greater historic importance than do the all-powerful tyrants who ruled Egypt.”
The biggest hero is God who calls on Moses to lead the people to freedom, tells him what to say and what to do while giving him mighty powers and assuring him of his presence.
What makes Shemot special is that it is where the divine name is revealed. When Moses asked God for the name he would tell the people of the one who had sent him, the medieval Spanish philosopher Ramban, says that Moses was not simply asking to know God’s personal name, according a story in My Jewish Learning. Ramban says that Moses tried to know the spiritual attributes he was encountering. Is it God’s attribute of chesed, of lovingkindness, which was present for Abraham? Is it God’s attribute of gevurah, of strength and might, which was present for Isaac?
God replied, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” This phrase has been translated, “I am Who I Am” and “I Will be What I Will Be.” Scholars have noted that Ehyeh is first person, imperfect, simple stem of the verb “to be” which indicates dynamic and active presence. Ramban says God’s reply can mean: I will appear to them in the way that I will appear to them. There is no one singular way that God will encounter the Israelites. Each would experience different aspects of God: lovingkindness, salvation, might, endurance -whatever was needed to bring them to freedom. He further says that in the Hebrew Scriptures we can see the various personal ways in which God has interacted with biblical figures. Yet, it is all the same unified one God, affirmed in the words of the Shema prayer Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad (the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.)
Today, Christians begin the Holy Eucharist, the rosary or any prayer with the sign of the Cross, and pray to one Triune God, saying: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As we call on God’s presence in our lives, we ask for his blessings and for the graces we most need.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What is the most recent petition or prayer you have said in the name of God? 2) What has been a common spiritual manifestation of God in your life?
Bibliography: Sarna, Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS (New York/Philadelphia, 1991); https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/parashat-shemot-the-essential-name-of-god/; https://wrj.org/learning/torah-study/torah-commentary/parashat-shmot
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, Bat kol Alumna, July 2014