Exodus (Shemot)

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Shmos — The Second Book of the Five Book of Moses (Torah)

Thou Shall Not Be a Flipper

Reading the Haftorah this Shabbat brought to mind scenes from the 2004 Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City where attendees where waving pictures of John Kerry  chanting “Flip-flop, flip-flop…” referring to Kerry’s ever changing position on the war in Iraq (“First I voted for it, before I voted against it”) and other political issues.  Former Governor of New York State, George Pataki, said there, “This year, we will win one for the Gipper, and they will lose one with the Flipper.” Kerry lost, as flippers usually do. This Haftorah (weekly portion of Prophets read publicly in Synagogues) starts with an astonishing statement of Elyahy Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet), “How long will you waver between two ideas? If the Lord is God, follow Him, and if the Baal, follow him.” (Melachim-I [...]

Global or Local?

And let them make me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them (Ex. 25:8) In modern physics, there are two paradigms usually expressed as locality and nonlocality.  Theoretical physics was born when Isaac Newton published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687, where he formulated his laws of motion and the universal law of gravity.  The law of gravity says that two masses attract each other proportionally to the product of their masses and inversely proportionally to the square of the distance between them. This law said nothing about the nature of the gravitational interaction, it did not explain the mechanism of this attraction at a distance.   Newton was bothered by the question of how one body can act on another body far removed from it with nothing in between, i.e., the notion of “action [...]

Convergence of Science and Torah

The Torah portion of Yitro (Ex. 18), is the high point of the story of Exodus—the giving of the Decalogue on Mount Sinai.  In a strange digression, the progressive narrative of the Exodus from Egypt is interrupted by the side story of Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses, who comes to Sinai desert to join the Jewish nation.  After hearing Moses’ account of all the miracles God performed for Jewish people, Jethro exclaimed: Now I know that the Lord is greater than all deities. (Ex. 18:11) Jethro said confidently, “I know,” because, as the chief priest of Midian, he indeed knew all pagan cults and all deities worshiped in his time.  Moreover, in antiquity, priests were expected to possess all secular knowledge as well (sadly, it is no longer the case).  They needed to [...]

Manna – Superposition of All Tastes

While traveling in the Sinai desert, Israelites were fed by the heavenly bread – the manna. The Torah portions – parshat Beshalach – states that raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey: וַיִּקְרְאוּ בֵית-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, מָן; וְהוּא, כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן, וְטַעְמוֹ, כְּצַפִּיחִת בִּדְבָשׁ. And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna; and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Ex. 16:31): However, in Numbers, it says that it tasted like cakes baked with oil: כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן The taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil. (Num. 11:8)  The Talmud (Yoma 75b) reconciles this discrepancy by explaining that the tastes varied depending who ate the manna – to small children it tasted [...]

Splitting of the Sea

Do you like riddles?  Here is a riddle – what do these two figures represent in the context of Exodus?   No Idea?  How about a hint? Still no idea? Okay, here is the answer: Yes, the first figure represents two doorposts and the lintel marked with the blood of Passover sacrifice, as it says: וְלָקְחוּ, מִן-הַדָּם, וְנָתְנוּ עַל-שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת, וְעַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף--עַל, הַבָּתִּים, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ, בָּהֶם And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it.  (Ex. 12:7) The second picture is of the splitting of the sea, as it says: וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם, בַּיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה, מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the [...]

Riddle — the answer

And the answer is... (drum roll, please)   Yes, the first figure represents two doorposts and the lintel marked with blood of Passover sacrifice and circumcisions as is says:  וְלָקְחוּ, מִן-הַדָּם, וְנָתְנוּ עַל-שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת, וְעַל-הַמַּשְׁקוֹף--עַל, הַבָּתִּים, אֲשֶׁר-יֹאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ, בָּהֶם And they shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it. (Ex. 12:7) The second picture is of the splitting of the sea, as it says:  וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם, בַּיַּבָּשָׁה; וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה, מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. (Ex. 14:22) And both have to do with time. But this is a [...]

Riddle — a hint

There were some good ideas expressed in the comments.  Close, but no cigars.  Here are some hints for you folks: 1. These two pictures express ideas described in the current and the previous sidrot (weekly Torah portions); 2. Don't focus on the differences in these pictures, focus on similarities. 3. The answer has to be expressed in two psukim (verses) -- one from the last parshah and the other from the current parshah describing each respective picture. 4. Last but not least, here are these pictures again with some details:

Mezuzah and Time

Bo: Exodus 10:1 – 14:16 The Erev Shabbat parshat Bo (the Eve of Sabbath of the week when we read the Torah section Bo) 2014 was my lucky day – I seem to have found an answer to a nagging question of many years. During several years from 1989 to 1996, I had been working on a book on Mezuzah.  This was not a book about halachot (ritual laws) of mezuzah – there were many books on that subject – this was a book about the meaning of mezuah – its significance in Jewish history, philosophy, ethics, and mysticism.  By 1996, the book was finished and I signed a contract with the leading publisher of English Judaica – Jason Aronson.  I was supposed to deliver the finished manuscript in a few months, but [...]

Carpe Diem

As we have discussed in the post, It’s the time, stupid, Pharaoh never got the message that it’s all about mastery of time.  To make sure Jews did get this message, God gave them the very first commandment—the commandment of keeping time, of marking new months:           This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you.(Ex. 12: 2) It is important to note that Jews were not only commanded to keep time, they were commanded to “make” time.  Indeed, in Biblical times, the new month was not calculated according to a calendar, as it is done today, it was proclaimed by a Bet Din (an ecclesiastic court) based on the testimony of two live witnesses, who observed [...]

It’s the Time, Stupid!

There is a continuous thread about the mastery of time that weaves through the last chapters of the book of Genesis (Bereshit) and continues through the beginning of the book of Exodus (Shemot). The story of Joseph’s incarceration ends with his successful interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. Joseph's genius was not only in interpreting ordinary objects (tendrils of grapes and baskets of bread) as symbols of the units of time but in understanding that the engagement in time (manifested in the chief butler’s personally squeezing the grapes into the cup and placing the cup in Pharaoh’s hand) symbolized life for the chief butler and the passivity of the chief baker (who dreamt of baskets of bread sitting on his head, with birds eating from the baskets) [...]

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