- Despite God's message that they will be redeemed from slavery, the Israelites' spirits remain crushed. God instructs Moses and Aaron to deliver the Israelites from the land of Egypt. (6:2-13)
- The genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and their descendants is recorded. (6:14-25)
- Moses and Aaron perform a miracle with a snake and relate to Pharaoh God's message to let the Israelites leave Egypt. (7:8-13)
- The first seven plagues occur. God hardens Pharaoh's heart, and Pharaoh rescinds each offer to let the Israelites go. (7:14-9:35)
by Arthur C. Greenfield
This parashah begins with God identifying Gods Self as the God of the Patriarchs. God acknowledges having heard the moaning of the Israelites and instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that God would free them and make them Gods People and bring them to the promised land of Canaan. The Israelites would not listen because of their suffering.
God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Moses says Pharaoh will not listen to him as he has a speech impediment.
God then instructs Aaron and Moses to go to Pharaoh together with Aaron taking the lead becoming the spokesman for what God dictates. God intends to harden Pharaoh's heart so that God might show signs and marvels, the Egyptians would then know that the Lord was God.
The Parashah continues with Gods instructing Moses and Aaron to go to Pharaoh and demand that he let the Israelites go to worship in the wilderness. Pharaoh at first agrees but later refuses. God, through Moses, instructs Aaron to strike the Nile with his staff which will turn the waters into blood.
Each demand for freedom by Moses and/or Aaron following Gods instruction was met with Pharaoh's denial. Each denial was met with a new plague. This parashah covers only the first seven plagues. At each demand God hardens Pharaoh's heart so that he can further demonstrate the full breadth of Gods power. You no doubt know how the story continues.
It was interesting for me to discover that in five of the ten plagues the Israelites were not themselves protected from the plague and I suppose were included in the misery.
The story of the Exodus can be understood on several levels. One level would be the straight forward telling, as we read it in the Haggadah during the Passover Seder. First the demands of freedom for the Israelites, then the subsequent plagues delivered by God through Moses and Aaron. Finally, as explained in the next parashah there camehe eventual dash to the Sea of Reeds, to escape Pharaoh's wrath.
There are other aspects to how we may interpret what took place. If we look at the story of Pharaoh repeatedly refusing to give in, we can perhaps see ourselves, or others we know who seem to be very similar. Are we very far from Pharaoh in our steadfast refusal to cede any ground, at any time, on any number of topics? Although obstinacy or stubbornness is usually thought of as a negative, it can also be an asset if it is applied appropriately.
As a child I was very sick, I missed so much school time due to my condition that I was always behind. I was thin and undersized—in the animal world I would have been considered the runt of the litter. I had attended a school for the physically handicapped. Their goal was to keep you healthy—education was a distant secondary concern. I slipped further and further behind, so by the time I was about 11 I failed the 12plus exam that would have sent me to Grammar School, where I would have been able to choose a career. Instead I went on to a school for those who were not going to be choosing any profession—my prospects were not good. I was behind in every way you could imagine.
I had two things which saved me from being a complete boob. I had a good work ethic and I had that one secret sauce—I was stubborn. I was determined not to remain the uneducated teen I knew I was. It was too late for me to pursue a profession. I would settle for sales, but I was still determined to learn. In my spare time I would lay on the carpet with the encyclopedia turning to random entries; I read the classics and loved Dickens and reading about ethics and morals. I gradually gained some self confidence about the person I was, and came to believe I had worth. I also learned that happiness has little to do with wealth.
There are times when an otherwise bad behavior can actually be beneficial and not detrimental. In my adult life, whether employed or volunteering, I have always sought to introduce new and better ways of doing things. Often that called for stubbornness, but always with a large dose of diplomacy.
It brings to mind a couple of famous historical characters we are all probably familiar with. These men were nothing, if not stubborn, but certainly in very positive ways, quite unlike Pharaoh who was just obstinate and a tyrant.
Abraham Lincoln grew up in poverty and had only about 18 months of formal education. He failed in his first business, practiced law without a degree, was unsuccessful in his personal life, and suffered through years of depression. He ran for the Senate twice and lost. There were more loses but he was stubborn in a very positive way and never gave up.
By contrast Winston Churchill grew up in a very opulent setting. His father was Lord Randolph Churchill whom young Winston rarely saw. Like Moses, Winston had a speech impediment. He had a life-long love affair with the military. Winston had great highs like being First Lord of the Admiralty, but had crushing defeats like Gallipoli where many lives were lost fighting against Turkey. He is remembered for being Prime Minister of England during WWII and was celebrated for bolstering the morale of the British public. Oddly he lost the subsequent election to Socialist Clement Atlee whom Churchill once described as a sheep in sheep's clothing.
So what do we gain from reading Exodus? I think we gain an appreciation of the fact that few things are absolutely bad or good—situations make all the difference.
There is really so much going on in Exodus it is easy to find wisdom within the passages and I hope we can all benefit from the readings.