Shemot 5770

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Charlene Thrope

This week we begin the book of Shemot with Parashat Shemot. If you have ever gone to a Passover seder, attended Religious School, or watched The Prince of Egypt, you know the basics of the book this book. You also probably have a general idea of what happened in the book of Torah we concluded last week, Bereishit. The transition between these two books – from stories of individuals to the story of a nation – is abrupt. Throughout the book of Bereishit, the term b’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, refers the actual children of Israel, or Jacob. However, within the first few verses of Shemot, this term comes to mean the entire Israelite people.

The emphasis on nationhood found in Shemot becomes clear from early in Moses’s life. Initially, we do not know the names of Moses’s parents – we only know that they are Levites – and although his mother nurses him, Moses spends much of his childhood living in the palace with Pharaoh’s daughter. When Moses goes out into the world and sees an Egyptian beating an Israelite, the Israelite is called echav, his brother. Although Moses and the Israelite are not actually brothers, they are part of the same nation. This bond is strong enough for Moses to call the Israelite a member of his family.

We usually focus on our own lives and the lives of our family and friends before we look into what is happening in the rest of the world, and it certainly makes sense to try to solve problems on a small scale before tackling global issues. However, as sudden or overwhelming as it may be, we must remember to make the transition from people to peoples, from Bereishit to Shemot. We learn from the Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 22a, “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” but we cannot settle for saving a world – we must strive to save the world.