General Overview: This week’s Torah reading, Shemot, begins the Book of Exodus. Pharaoh issues harsh decrees against the Israelites, beginning decades of Jewish suffering and slavery. Moses is born and raised in the Egyptian royal palace. After killing an Egyptian, Moses escapes to Midian and marries. G‑d appears to him in a burning bush and demands that he return to Egypt to redeem the Israelites. Moses returns to Egypt with the intention of freeing the Jewish people.
First Aliyah: Jacob’s sons all died. Jacob’s descendents in Egypt, however, were “fruitful and swarmed and increased and became very very strong.” A new Pharaoh arose, and he resolved to find a solution to the “Israelite problem.” He proposed to afflict the Israelites and impose slave labor upon them, thus preventing them from multiplying. He implemented the plan, and the Israelites were forced to construct storage cities for Pharaoh. “But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength.” Pharaoh then summoned the Hebrew midwives and instructed them to kill all the Hebrew sons that they delivered. The righteous midwives feared G‑d, however, and defied Pharaohs order.
Second Aliyah: Pharaoh called the midwives to task for not following orders. They answered that the Hebrew women were skilled in midwifery and delivered their babies before they even arrived. G‑d rewarded the midwives for their bravery. Pharaoh then commanded the Egyptians to cast all newborn males into the Nile. Moses was born. His mother, who feared for her baby’s life, put him into a waterproofed basket and set him afloat in the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe, and took the child as her own. Moses’ sister Miriam, who observed the entire episode, offered to bring a Hebrew nursemaid for the child, and when Pharaoh’s daughter agreed to the suggestion, Miriam called the child’s mother. Moses’ mother nursed the child and after he was weaned brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter.
Third Aliyah: Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. When he matured, he went out one day and saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew. Moses slew the Egyptian. Word of his deed reached Pharaoh, and Moses was compelled to flee. He escaped to Midian where he married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro. They gave birth to a son, Gershom. Back in Egypt, meanwhile, the plight of the Israelite slaves was worsening. They cried out to G‑d, and He remembered the covenant He had made with their forefathers.
Fourth Aliyah: Moses was shepherding Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness when he arrived at the “mountain of G‑d.” There he saw a bush burning, yet it was not being consumed by the fire. When he approached to investigate the phenomenon, G‑d called out to him. G‑d declared that He has seen the Israelites’ afflictions, and has decided to deliver them from their Egyptian masters.
Fifth Aliyah: G‑d gave Moses specific instructions: He was to gather the Israelite elders and inform them that G‑d had remembered them and would now rescue them from Egypt and bring them to a Land of Milk and Honey. Then he was to approach Pharaoh and request permission to leave along with the Israelites. G‑d informed Moses that Pharaoh would not accede to this request – but the redemption would come nonetheless, after G‑d will smite Egypt with a strong arm. At that point the Israelites would leave with much riches. G‑d gave Moses three miracles to perform before the Israelites to prove that he was sent by G‑d. When Moses protested that he was not suited to be G‑d’s messenger due to his speech impediment, G‑d assigned his brother Aaron to be his spokesperson.
Sixth Aliyah: Moses took his wife and two sons and headed for Egypt. G‑d charged Moses to warn Pharaoh: “So said G‑d, ‘My firstborn son is Israel. So I say to you, send out My son so that he will worship Me. And if you refuse to send him out, behold, I will slay your firstborn son.'” En route to Egypt, Moses’ wife rescued her husband from divine wrath by performing a circumcision on their son. Moses met Aaron, who had come from Egypt to greet him, and together they went to Egypt, gathered the elders and performed the wondrous signs that G‑d had given Moses.
Seventh Aliyah: Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and presented G‑d’s demand. Pharaoh mocked the request and instructed the Egyptian taskmasters to increase the Israelite slaves’ workload. The Israelites were unable to meet Pharaoh’s new demands, and were viciously beaten as a result. Moses addressed G‑d: “Why have You mistreated this people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has mistreated this people, and You have not saved Your people.” G‑d responded: “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a mighty hand he will send them out…”
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