The Torah Portion for Sunday 26th December 2021 is called “Shemot” meaning “The Names”. We call it Exodus, meaning “The road out”. The Prophetic portion Isaiah 27:6-28 The Deliverance of Israel: and Matthew 2:13 – 14 “Out of Egypt I have called My son”.
Shemot in a Nutshell - Exodus 1:1–6:1
The children of Israel multiply in Egypt.
Threatened by their growing numbers, Pharaoh enslaves them and orders the Hebrew midwives, Shifrah and Puah, to kill all male babies at birth. When they do not comply, he commands his people to cast the Hebrew babies into the Nile.
A child is born to Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, and her husband, Amram, and later placed in a basket on the river, while the baby’s sister, Miriam, watches from the bank. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the boy, raises him as her son, and names him Moses.
As a young man, Moses leaves the palace and discovers the hardship of his brethren. He sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and kills the Egyptian. The next day he sees two Jews fighting. When he admonishes them, they reveal his deed of the previous day, and Moses is forced to flee to Midian. There he rescues Jethro’s daughters, marries one of them (Tzipporah), and becomes a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks.
God appears to Moses in a burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai, and instructs him to go to Pharaoh and demand: “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me.” Moses’ brother, Aaron, is appointed to serve as his spokesman. In Egypt, Moses and Aaron assemble the elders of Israel to tell them that the time of their redemption has come. The people believe; but Pharaoh refuses to let them go, and even intensifies their suffering. Moses returns to God to protest: “Why have You done evil to this people?” God promises that the redemption is close at hand.
The opening chapters of Exodus plunge us into the midst of epic events. Almost at a stroke the Israelites are transformed from protected minority to slaves.
This week’s Torah portion could be entitled “The Birth of a Leader.” We see Moses, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, growing up as a prince of Egypt. We see him as a young man, for the first time realising the implications of his true identity. He is, and knows he is, a member of an enslaved and suffering people: “Growing up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people” (Ex. 2:10).
He intervenes and he acts which is the mark of a true leader. We see him intervene three times, twice in Egypt and once in Midian, to rescue victims of violence.
We then witness the great scene at the Burning Bush where God summons him to lead his people to freedom. Moses hesitates four times until God becomes angry and Moses knows he has no other choice. This is a classic account of the Beginning of a hero.
But this is only the surface tale. The Bible is a deep and subtle book, and it does not always deliver its message on the surface. Just beneath is another far more remarkable story, not about a hero but about six heroines. Six courageous women without whom there would not have been a Moses or the deliverance of Israel.
First is Jochebed, wife of Amram and mother of the three people who were to become the great leaders of the Israelites: Miriam, Aaron and Moses himself. It was Jochebed who, at the height of Egyptian persecution, had the courage to have a child, hide him for three months, and then devise a plan to give him a chance of being rescued. We know all too little of Jochebed. In her first appearance in the Exodus she is unnamed. Yet, reading the narrative, we are left in no doubt about her bravery and resourcefulness. Not by accident did her children all become leaders.
The second was Miriam, Jochebed’s daughter and Moses’ elder sister. It was she who kept watch over the child as the small ark floated down the river, and it was she who approached Pharaoh’s daughter with the suggestion that he be nursed among his own people. The biblical text paints a portrait of the young Miriam as a figure of unusual fearlessness and presence of mind at such a young age - just seven years old.
Third and fourth were the two midwives, Shifrah and Puah, who frustrated Pharaoh’s first attempt at genocide. Ordered to kill the male Israelite children at birth, they “feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (Ex. 1:17). Summoned and accused of disobedience, they outwitted Pharaoh by constructing an ingenious cover story: the Hebrew women, they said, are vigorous and give birth before we arrive. They escaped punishment and saved many lives.
The fifth is Tzipporah, Moses’ wife. The daughter of a Midianite priest, she was nonetheless determined to accompany Moses on his mission to Egypt, despite the fact that she had no reason to risk her life on such a hazardous venture. In a deeply puzzling and bewildering passage, we see it was she who saved Moses’ life by performing a circumcision on their son (Ex. 4:24-26). The impression we gain of her is a figure of monumental determination who, at a crucial moment, had a better sense than Moses himself of what God required.
The sixth I have saved until last who is the most intriguing of them all: Pharaoh’s daughter. It was she who had the courage to rescue an Israelite child and bring him up as her own in the very palace where her father was plotting the destruction of the Israelite people. There is something at once heroic and gracious about this lightly sketched figure, the woman who gave Moses his name.
All these women refused to carry out the tyrannical mandates of the land of Egypt. This is the first recorded instance in history of civil disobedience: refusing to obey an order, given by the most powerful man in the most powerful empire of the ancient world, simply because it was immoral, unethical and inhuman.
The Bible suggests that they did so without fuss or drama. Summoned by Pharaoh to explain their behaviour, they simply replied: “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive” (Ex. 1:19). To this, Pharaoh had no reply.
In England in the15th century William Tyndale, regardless of the tyrannical and unjust measures to ban the translation of the New Testament into English so that everyone could read it for themselves, paid with his life and was burned at the stake.
During the second world war, the courage of those who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust against the tyrannical Nazi oppression also paid with their lives. Often, the mark of real moral heroes, is that they do not see themselves as moral heroes. They do what they do because that is what a human beings are supposed to do. That is probably the meaning of the statement that they “feared God.” It is those who have a moral sense.
It was the courage of these six remarkable women Jochebed, Miriam, Shifra, Puah (the midwives), Tzipporah and Pharaoh’s daughter who were leaders not because of any official position they held, but because they had courage and conscience. They refused to be intimidated by power or defeated by circumstance. They were the real heroes of the Exodus. Their courage is still a source of inspiration for us today as we stand against our own tyrannical governments.
Exodus 1 – 6 gives a detailed account of Moses’ life as a baby brought up in the palace, how he killed an Egyptian and ran for his life to Midian, became a shepherd, married Jethro’s daughter, encountered God at the burning bush and God revealed himself to Moses as “I Am” - that’s His name. Everything else is a description of who God is. El Gibor - Almighty God, Jehovah Jireh – God the provider, Jehovah Nissi - God is my banner - my covering, Jehovah Tsidkenu our righteousness. These are describing words. But God’s name is “I AM”.
I would like to finish with this….
Pharoah’s daughter, in the Hebrew historical books called the Midrash, has been accredited with the salvation of all Israel because she is the one who saved Moses from death. Gentiles are always involved in the redemption story. Sometimes it is hidden and is a mystery but God is revealing these mysteries to us now – today.
It says in Romans 9:25 concerning the Gentiles quoting the prophecy in Hosea. “Those who were not My people, I will now call My people. And I will love those whom I did not love before”.
Pharaoh's daughter went down to the Nile and saw the Hebrew baby in the basket. This baby’s name was “Tovia” which means “Yahweh is Good”. Moses also means “son” in Egyptian as in “Rameses” Son of Ra/moses. “My son who I drew out of the water”. He was not her son, but she called him “my son”. In turn Moses “draws the Israelites up out of the waters” of the Red Sea and out of slavery.
Pharaoh’s daughter joins Moses on this epic journey to the Promised Land. She was his Egyptian mom. Her name is recorded in her family tree in 1 Chronicles 4:15-18 and I quote from the Complete Jewish Bible “these are the sons of “Batyah” the daughter of Pharaoh who married Mered” – she married a Jew! Batyah means “The daughter of Yah”. “Bat” is daughter and Yah is Yahweh – Batyah was her Hebrew name meaning “Daughter of God.
God says to the Gentiles, those excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenant of the promise prophesied in Hosea 1:9 “I will call them “my people” who are not My people; and I will call her “My loved one”……
God was saying to Pharaoh’s Daughter, “You were not my daughter but now I will call you “Batyah”. You are no longer the daughter of Pharaoh but “Bat Yah” the “Daughter of God”.
1. Chabad Shemot in a Nutshell
2. Rabbi Sacks – “The Birth of a Leader”
3. Rabbi Sacks on Shemot “Women as Leaders”
4. El Shaddai Ministries on “Batyah” The Daughter of God.