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Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

This week’s Torah portion not only begins the book of Shemot, Exodus, but also the calling of Moses to his all-important task of delivering the Children of Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. We would think that since Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s royal house he would realize that he was the most qualified person to confront the King of Egypt and lead a group of slaves to their freedom. But when God confronted him at the burning bush, Moses replied with anything less than confidence, saying, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). In other words, “What qualifies me to lead these people out from under Pharaoh’s hand?” Moses didn’t feel that he had the ability to accomplish what God had called him to do.

Similar instances occur among the prophets of Israel when they do not feel confident that they have the courage or skill to do what Hashem has instructed them. For instance, when the LORD tells Samuel that He has rejected Saul as king because of his wickedness, and that he should go to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king, Samuel responds by saying, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2). Samuel knew that Saul would try to kill him because of jealousy. But God gave Samuel a plan and he obeyed. 

Elijah, after defeating and slaughtering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, fled to the wilderness when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him as he had killed her false prophets. Even though God had just used him to do something bold and amazing, Elijah became afraid and gave in to that fear:

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4)

Joseph’s early life was filled with tragedy. He was hated and betrayed by his brothers. He was thrown into a pit and his father made to believe he was dead. He was sold into slavery and carried down to Egypt where he was sold yet again. And just when things started looking up his master’s wife tried to seduce him. When he refused her advances she brought up false charges against him and he was thrown into prison. It so happens that Joseph found himself in Pharaoh’s dungeon alongside two former employees of the king. Both the royal cupbearer and the royal baker had been thrown into prison because they had displeased Pharaoh in some capacity. One night they both had troubling dreams and told them to Joseph who interpreted them. For the cupbearer, Joseph said that his dream was to let him know he would be restored to his position within three days. Joseph said the baker’s dream, however, signified that within three days he would be executed. Both of these dreams came to pass just as Joseph had interpreted them. When the cupbearer was released, Joseph asked him to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh. The cupbearer forgot, however, and exactly two years after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison Pharaoh woke to a disturbing dream of his own—in fact, two parallel dreams.

Pharaoh’s first dream was that he was standing near the Nile and seven plump, fat cows rose up from the river and began grazing nearby. Then, immediately, seven other cows who were emaciated looking came up out of the Nile as well. But rather than grazing alongside the first seven cows, they ate them instead. Pharaoh awoke, but fell back to sleep and had a similar dream to the first. He saw seven ears of plump, healthy grain growing on one stalk. Then immediately, he saw seven more ears of grain that were withered and diseased that sprouted up and consumed the original, healthy ears of grain.

The Responsibility of Influence

Parashat Ki Tavo is so named because of its open verse, which says, “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it …” (Deuteronomy 26:1). The words ki tavo mean “when you come.” Thus, this parashah is focused on the responsibility of the Children of Israel when they arrive in the land promised to them by Hashem. The first few paragraphs address bringing the bikkurim, the first fruits of the land to the LORD and the ceremony surrounding this procedure. After this Hashem gives Israel a reminder of their responsibility as a people who are consecrated to the LORD: 

This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that the LORD is your God, and that you will walk in his ways, and keep his statutes and his commandments and his rules, and will obey his voice. (Deuteronomy 27:16–17)

Immediately following this, instructions are given to renew the covenant through a ritual which includes dividing up the tribes and set them onto two mountains: the Mount of Blessing (Mount Gerizim) and the Mount of Curses (Mount Ebal). The Levites are to command them from the valley between the two. The ones on Mount Gerizim are to bless the nation and the ones on Mount Ebal are to repeat a series of curses, to which all of the people will affirm, “Amen.” The specific curses that are to be recited are listed in verses 15-26. Two of these, however, are connected in a way that may not be obvious at first. Let’s look at these two curses and find the link between them:

“Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.” (Deuteronomy 27:18)

Restoring The Lost

Parashat Ki Tetze contains a plethora of laws ranging from managing the spoils of war to sexual immorality to fulfilling vows and oaths. Our focus will be on the responsibility of guarding a lost object. At the beginning of chapter 22 we read:

You shall not see your brother's ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother's, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. (Deuteronomy 22:1–3)

At first this seems like a simple, straight-forward commandment of the Torah: If you find something that doesn’t belong to you, whether it is a living animal or an inanimate object, either find the owner and give it back or hold onto it until the owner comes looking for it. However, because this passage is brief without any details of how do deal with various possible scenarios, there are many implications, applications, and questions that are left unaddressed.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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