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Torah Sparks

December 28, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 1:1 - 6:1 (Hertz, p. 206; Etz Hayim, p. 317)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 3:1 - 4:17 (Hertz, p. 213; Etz Hayim, p. 326)
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 - 28:13; 29:22 - 23 (Hertz, p. 225; Etz Hayim, p. 343)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-14) A list of the sons of Jacob/Israel who came to Egypt. The beginning of the enslavement. The building of the store-cities and other acts of oppression.

(1:15-22) The midwives disobey Pharaoh's orders to kill all male Israelite newborns. He then orders every newborn boy to be drowned in the Nile.

(2:1-10) A boy is born. His parents hide him for three months. His mother puts him into a reed basket and floats him on the Nile, where he is found by Pharaoh's daughter. She names him Moses. He is raised in the royal palace.

(2:11-25) Moses goes out to his people and sees their suffering. He kills an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite, and is forced to flee to Midian. He marries Zipporah and works for her father as a shepherd. Meanwhile, God hears the suffering of the Israelites, and determines to help.

(3:1-10) The revelation at the "Burning Bush". Moses is called by God to be a prophet and a leader of the people. He will be God's human agent in freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

(3:11-4:17) Moses expresses anxiety and doubt about his worthiness for the task. God encourages and reassures him, and gives signs to Moses to prove to the Israelites that he is indeed God's messenger. All in all, Moses refuses God's assignment five times, and God provides five counter arguments. Finally, Moses accepts the task.

(4:18-23) Further instructions from God to Moses.

(4:24-26) A peculiar incident during the journey to Egypt: Zipporah circumcises their son to ward off danger to Moses.

(4:27-31) God sends Aaron to meet Moses, and together they convince the people that God has sent them.

(5:1-6:1) Moses and Aaron's first confrontation with Pharaoh fails. Pharaoh retaliates by oppressing the Israelites even more harshly. The Israelites blame Moses and Aaron for making their plight worse. Moses complains to God, who reassures him that he will soon see what God will do to Pharaoh.

Discussion Theme: Awareness

"Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, 'I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn't the bush burn up?' When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: 'Moses! Moses!' He answered, 'Here I am.'" (Exodus 3:1-4)

  1. "How long would you have to watch wood burn before you could know whether or not it actually was being consumed? Even dry kindling wood is not burned up for several minutes. This then would mean that Moses would have had to watch the 'amazing sight' closely for several minutes before he could possibly know there even was a miracle to watch... The 'burning bush' was not a miracle. It was a test. God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. When Moses did, God spoke." (Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, God was in this Place and I, I did not Know)
  2. "Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!" In other words, "if I had known that God would have been here, I would not have gone to sleep in such a holy place." (Rashi on Genesis 28:16)
  3. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him or her and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful." (Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception, 1954)
  4. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: "Everyday a Heavenly voice issues from Mount Horeb proclaiming..." (Avot 6:2)
  5. "Not only is Torah eternally unchanging, it is also always present, always able to be heard." (Eliyahu KiTov, Sefer HaParshiyot)
  6. And the Lord said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there." "If Moses were to ascend the mountain, why would God specify that he 'be there'? Because people often expend great effort in climbing a mountain, but once they get there, they are not there; they are somewhere else." (Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk, Itturaei Torah, 2 (248), on Exodus 24:12)
  7. "The earth is the Lord's and all its fullness" (Psalm 24:1)

Sparks for Reflection:

Knowing God is often a matter of awareness of the ordinary miracles that happen around us but which we often do not notice. Our tradition uses the language of sleep as metaphor for a lack of awareness. Bnei Yisrael, according to one midrash, nearly slept through Matan Torah - the giving of the Torah. Like Jacob, we may realize too that we are often asleep and not hear the voice of Sinai that continues to sound even today. Moses, on the other hand, attended closely enough and long enough to notice the miracle of the burning bush. He was a man of consciousness. He was a man, in the words of Rabbi Aryeh Lieb of Ger, who could "awaken the holiness of God in any place."

How do we do the same? What in our tradition sharpens our ability to perceive that which cannot be seen and that which is not readily heard? How does, for example, the recitation of berachot help us pause and focus? How do the mitzvot, in general, promote awareness?

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