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Two Chapters - Two Perspectives
By Rav Tamir Granot
describes the beginning of the consolidation of Am Yisrael
as a nation. The Exodus from Egypt and the
subsequent Revelation at Sinai are two of the most formative of the nation's
experiences. The Tribes of Israel
existed prior to this, but there was no national life.
creation of Am Yisrael as described in Sefer Shemot is not
a normal, natural phenomenon. Nations
generally come into being connected to a certain piece of land, whose
inhabitants form an association of cooperation based on common interests; they
go on to establish laws, set boundaries, and agree to some form of
government. The birth of Am Yisrael does not follow this natural process of
development. Rather, its origins reflect
a singular Divine intervention in history, which has the effect of generating
both its independence and its nationhood.
was not born in its own land, and the process of its formative stages is not a
first chapters of Sefer Shemot
are a sort of foreword and background to this great process, which is the
essence of the Book.
* Chapter 1 is a detailed chronicle of the enslavement
of Israel in Egypt. As we saw in the shiur
on Parashat Vayigash,
this chronicle actually starts with Yosef's actions
during his lifetime, and it continues into the beginning of Sefer
Clearly, the Divine intervention in the Exodus, the transition from
slavery to redemption, cannot be understood without the necessary background as
to the history of this slavery.
* Chapter 2 presents the origins of Moshe. It ends with his marriage and settling in Midyan i.e., before he becomes the leader. In Chapter 2, we come to know Moshe, starting
at the very beginning of his life. The
description of the origins of the leader must precedes
the description of the evolvement of the redemption; this is clearly
logical. The selection of Moshe as
leader of the nation and as God's emissary is a necessary condition for
redemption, for Moshe is the savior of Israel.
Hence, we may summarize the relationship
between the first three chapters of Sefer Shemot as follows:
- Chapter 1: crisis, complication the enslavement
- Chapter 2: the beginnings of a solution
- Chapter 3: solution redemption
we read Chapter 2, describing Moshe, we do not yet know the relationship
between him and the contents of Chapter 1: there is no explicit indication that
this boy, the hero of Chapter 2, will be the savior of Israel. If we were not familiar with Chapter 3 and
the continuation of all the rest of the Torah, we could perhaps think that the
Torah is presenting another vignette of slavery, from a different perspective.
Chapter 2, then, preserves the
"tension" created in chapter 1, which left us with an unsolved
problem. The Torah could have introduced
the second chapter with an introductory exposition telling us that we are about
to read follow the birth of the savior and leader but the text chooses to
keep this a secret until it is revealed at the burning bush. Thus, another riddle is created for us, the
readers, on the literary level: the question of the connection between the
first two chapters. Attention should be
paid to the fact that each of these chapters stands alone: chapter 2 is not the
continuation of chapter 1, even though it assumes that the reader is familiar
with the circumstances:
"A man from the house of Levi went
and married a daughter of Levi
She saw him, that he
was special, and she hid him for three months.'
The reason for hiding the child is Pharoah's
decree that "Every son that is born...," with which chapter 1
concludes. This represents the
connection between the two chapters, and therefore chapter 2 may also be read
as part of the history of the enslavement.
On the other hand, the story of Moshe is
an independent unit; it stands alone.
Let us describe chapters 1 and 2, each on
its own, and question how each should be understood in light of our analysis.
As noted, this chapter describes the
subjugation of Bnei Yisrael,
which is presented as evolving from one stage to the next. There is a problem, and Pharoah's
decree is meant to solve it:
"Behold, the nation of the children of Israel is more numerous and
mightier than we; let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply and it
shall be that in the event of war, they shall also join our
." THEREFORE PHAROAH DECREES:
"He appointed over them taskmasters to afflict them with their
"But the more they afflicted them, the more numerous they became,
and they had had enough of the children of Israel." BECAUSE OF THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF PHAROAH'S
FIRST DECREE: "You shall look upon the birth stones; if it is a boy, you
shall put him to death, but if it is a girl, she shall live."
"But the midwives feared God, and they did not to as the king of Egypt had
instructed them, and they saved the children alive." BECAUSE THIS NEW TACTIC HAS NO EFFECT,
PHAROAH DIRECTS HIS DECREE TOWARDS HIS ENTIRE NATION: "Pharoah
commanded all of his nation, saying: every boy that is
born you shall cast into the river."
The Ramban notes that these
three stages reflect no small measure of cunning:
The decree of servitude, with which the development begins, is
acceptable to the Egyptians because slavery is quite legitimate in their world
and there is considerable profit to be made from the enslavement of Israel.
The second decree is, of course, much more severe and extreme, but is
not directed towards the entire nation; rather, it concerns only women of a
defined role (midwives), and therefore Pharoah
believes that he has the power to enforce it on them.
Only as a third stage does Pharoah dare to
command his entire nation, "Every son that is born you shall cast him
into the river." Apparently, after
the previous stages, the necessary groundwork and infrastructure of slavery and
hatred had already been laid, such that Pharoah can
now permit himself to promulgate a decree of annihilation.
It should be noted that we also note here a syndrome
very similar to the historical development of anti-Semitism that we have
witnessed in later generations. In our
times we have seen how decrees of annihilation are not the first step; they are
preceded by laws enforcing humiliation and slavery; later, the work of
annihilation is entrusted to professional bodies, and only as a final stage is
all of this followed by a decree of annihilation.
now examine the words and linguistic forms that the Torah utilizes in the
(6) Yosef died, as well as his
brothers and all of that generation.
(7) Then the children of Israel were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied and grew
exceedingly mighty, and the land was filled with them.
(8) Then a new king
arose over Egypt,
who did not know Yosef.
(9) And he said to his people, "Behold, the nation of the children of Israel is more numerous and mightier than we.
(10) Let us deal wisely with them, lest they increase, and it shall happen in the event of
war that they shall also join our enemies and wage war against us, and go up out of the land."
(11) So he appointed over it [the
nation] taskmasters, to afflict them with their burdens, and they built
treasure cities for Pharoah
Pitom and Ra'amses.
(12) But the more they afflicted it, the more they increased and the
more they grew, and they had had enough of the children
(13) And they Egyptians enslaved the children of Israel
(14) And they made their lives bitter with hard labor,
with mortar and with bricks, and all manner of work in the field all the
labor which they imposed upon them, with rigor.
(15) Then the king of Egypt
said to the Hebrew midwives, the name of one of whom was Shifra,
and the name of the other Pu'ah,
(16) and he said, "When
you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see upon the birthstones, if it is a boy
you shall put him to death, but if it is a girl she shall live."
(17) But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt
had said to them, and they saved the children alive.
(18) So the king of Egypt
called the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this thing to
save the children alive?"
(19) The midwives said to Pharoah: "Because the Hebrew women are
not like the Egyptian women; they are lively: before the midwife reaches them,
they have already given birth."
(20) Therefore God dealt favorably with the midwives,
and the nation multiplied
and grew very mighty.
(21) And it was, because the midwives feared God, that
He made them houses.
(22) Then Pharoah
commanded all of his nation, saying: "Every boy
that is born you shall cast into the river, and every girl you shall save
A review of the highlighted words and phrases reveals
seven-fold mention of Pharoah,
or the "King of Egypt" as an
alternative title, emphasizes the centrality of the King of Egypt as the
character who pits himself against Israel.
Facing him are Bnei Yisrael, or "the nation" as an alternative title, mentioned
five times, and another twice in the singular ("it" i.e., the
there are the expressions indicating the natural or not so natural -
reproduction of Israel:
"grew numerous," "grew mighty," "multiplied." These words continue the verse that precedes
the story of the enslavement, in which the astonishing growth of Israel is
described using a long list of verbs.
The use and repetition of the same verbs here highlights the continuity
of this process, despite Pharoah's repeated efforts
to halt it.
story of the enslavement is described in the national dimension. There are only two individual characters who are singled out: the midwives, mentioned for their
merit. Aside from them, the text speaks
only of the nation, the enslavement in its macro perspective, as though we are
watching thousands upon thousands of characters running about and building,
without our knowing the personal story of even a single one of them. The description of both the increase of Bnei Yisrael and
the efforts to annihilate them is of national, rather than personal,
chapter the perspective changes completely.
Let us borrow an analogy from the world of cinema or theater: in Chapter
1, the lens zooms out; we see only blurred figures, we distinguish only general
processes. At the beginning of Chapter 2
the camera zooms in close: suddenly we see a close-up of what is going on; the
camera approaches a certain house and shows a picture of a birth. A mother who is both
overjoyed and terrified. A baby smiling and being hidden away so that he will not be found.
entire story here is described, or "filmed," as it were close
up. We do not know, in Chapter 2, what
is going on all around.
Chapter 1 describes the decree of annihilation as
promulgated by Pharoah to his nation. It applies to every Hebrew boy who is born.
In Chapter 2, the decree is discerned through the prism
of Yokheved and Miriyam.
In Chapter 1, the text describes the decree of
enslavement for all of Israel.
In Chapter 2, the enslavement is experienced through the
eyes of Moshe, concerning whom we are told, "He saw their suffering,"
and through the image of the Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, one of Moshe's
are things that we cannot know from Chapter 1 because they essentially belong
to the micro dimension, the little stories.
Thus, for example, the internal disputes amongst Am Yisrael, which are the
result of their subjugation: "Behold, two Hebrew men were fighting
transition from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 is the change from a general, historiographical overview to a personal, biographical
one. We may describe the same chronicle
on two different levels. For the sake of
clarification, imagine a television or cinema screen divided in half: on one
side we see the picture at a distance the national process; on the other
side, we see the private story of Moshe.
The descriptions parallel and complement one another. Each contains that which the other fails to
convey. And here, I believe, lies the
crux of the introduction to Sefer Shemot: the realization that both chapters are taking
place at the same time, in parallel; that these are not events that are
following one another, but rather occurring simultaneously this changes our
understanding of the relationship between slavery and redemption, between
anguish and salvation.
looking only at the part of the screen displaying the general, panoramic picture, would see only a reality that is cruel, cyclical,
merciless, and devoid of hope.
other camera reveals that in the midst of the abyss of slavery, there is also a
ray of light. The first ray of light is
not the result of Divine intervention, but rather arises from a man who, in
contrast to all others, understands that something in this situation is not
right. The picture of
an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man, which to everyone else Egyptians and
Hebrews alike was an entirely normative one, indeed, the epitome of everyday
routine, was to him unbearable.
He cannot bear it, and he reacts.
Moshe's reaction at this stage does not arise from any plan that has
been coming together in his mind. He
does not yet know what destiny awaits him; he has no political agenda. He simply cannot bear the injustice; he does
not want it to continue. In this insane
reality, Moshe Rabbeinu is an island of sanity. Were we to look from afar, we would have no
idea that anything had happened. We
would know nothing of his existence. It
is quite probable that the great majority of Bnei
Yisrael knew nothing of what took place around
Moshe. They were truly devoid of
hope. They were not aware of the
beginning of the change. But we with
our additional "zoom" perspective know that the change has already
begun. We understand that in the very depths
of slavery, the beginnings of redemption are hiding. The redemption is not "after" the
slavery; it is in the process of coming into being.
actions in Egypt
are not much more than a cry of pain and objection. They are also an expression of his courage:
he is not concerned for himself when he responds. Nevertheless, redemption cannot come without
this "awakening from below."
God needs, as it were, someone within reality to act, to awaken the
sleeping, painful reality. This is what
Moshe achieves by his actions, and therefore the "awakening from Above" is not long in coming. As the Torah tells us, at the end of Chapter
(23) It happened, during those many years, that the king
of Egypt died, and the
children of Israel
sighed from their labor, and they cried out, and their imploring rose to God,
from their labor.
(24) And God heard their sigh, and God remembered His
covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchak, and with Yaakov.
(25) And God saw Bnei
Yisrael, and God knew.
These verses could have been placed at the end of
Chapter 1, with its description of the slavery.
They are not connected to Moshe's stay in Midyan,
which precedes its appearance at the end of Chapter 2. But their location at the end of Chapter 2
connects them to two sources, both of which are necessary conditions to
catalyze Divine action:
The depths of the slavery and the cry of Bnei
Yisrael, as expressed in verses 23-25.
The appearance of Moshe as a person worthy of leadership and able to
The early stories about Moshe
The Torah recounts three events in which Moshe takes
the killing of the Egyptian who is striking the
his rebuke of the Hebrew aggressor who is
striking his neighbor
his salvation of the Midianite
shepherdesses who are driven away by the more powerful shepherds.
This represents a clear development:
first instance, the Egyptian is harming one of his brethren, and the moral
motivation is mixed up here in fraternal love and responsibility. (In presenting the episode, the Torah
describes the Egyptian as striking "a Hebrew man of his brethren.")
second instance, the dispute is between two Hebrews, such that Moshe takes the
side of the one suffering an injustice; he acts here solely on the basis of
third instance Moshe is completely removed from his natural surroundings; he is
in a foreign country, confronting foreign people, and he has no connection with
them at all. He reacts to the injustice qua
Moshe is revealed here as possessing three main
degree of moral sensitivity
and national responsibility
These three qualities are central to his
leadership and to leadership in general.
Concerning the first, no more need be said. The second and third exist both in tension
and as complements of each other.
Nationalistic fraternity sometimes runs the danger of leading to moral
deviations, to an overly lenient attitude towards injustices going on within
the nation. On the other hand, there can
be no leadership without the fundamental sense of empathy that a leader must
inculcate in his nation. Chazal teach that the Hebrew who was striking his
neighbor was the same man who had been beaten the previous day by the
Egyptian. This must not be
repeated. A leader must come to the
assistance of his brethren even when the latter is not a righteous person. Two years ago the nation of Israel
deliberated the dilemma of liberating dangerous prisoners in return for Elchanan Tannenbaum who, it
seems, was not a paragon of virtue. But
true leadership must feel a fraternal love and concern even towards such a
brother. (Obviously, I do not refer here
to the question of the price; only to the actual obligation of concern.)
is not chosen for leadership because of his prophetic abilities. It is also not because of his uniquely
inspired prayers. It is only later that
these qualities manifest themselves. The
Torah, in its narration, conveys only the kernel of those qualities on the
basis of which Moshe is chosen to deliver Israel and these are the
qualities discussed above.
Translated by Kaeren