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Torah Portion

Home > Torah Portion > V'ALEH SHMOT, "And these are the names" (of the children of Israel)

V'ALEH SHMOT, "And these are the names" (of the children of Israel)
EX.1:1- 6:1
by Yaakov Fogelman

This study is sponsored by Buddy and Ida Frankel, in Memory of George Frankel, whose 13th Yahrzeit is the 13th of Tevet. Buddy, a NYC oleh, owns and operates Tzaddik's NY Style Deli, in the Jewish 1/4, just above the Wall.

Rav Mordecai Gafni stresses that the Torah, the O.T. (Only Testament), while so much more than a mere work of great literature, is also the greatest work of literature, God being its Awesome Almighty Author. Besides being the world's most popular book of all times, a careful reading of it as literature will both reveal many of its deepest messages and cultivate our own literary talents. Rav Gafni notes that Exodus opens with a stress on Israel's names, homes and families, and their links to Yaakov, to their Divine tradition. The tale of Exodus is the tale of their gradual loss, as the Jews slip into the faceless and nameless irresponsible anonymity of decadent Egptian civilization, culminating in the ultimate anonymity, slavery; their recovery begins with their redeemers, Shifra, Pua, and Moshe, the few heroes with proper names at the beginning of the book-- everyone else is referred to only by mere pronouns or titles, e.g. Pharo (but cf. "the daughter of Pharo", who is a nameless redeemer; perhaps she's acting against her probably profane given Egyptian name).

Without "names", strong personal identity and uniqueness, emulating God Himself, one can't form "homes", families-- the Hebrew slave "married" to a Canaanite slave woman doesn't "own' his own family-- they belong to his master (21:1f; but his Jewish family, pre-dating his slavery, remains his, as would any Jewish family which he founds while a slave-- YF). YF: So both individual realization and family, for a Jew, depend on his connection to his tradition and mission, and are a sine qua non for its successful perpetuation and impact. Tho there is a conflict between independent individual development and binding family and communal commitment, a shared commitment to Yaakov's mission, each according to his abilities and temperament, can bridge the gap-- tho a veil may separate Rivka and Yitzchak, they both carry on the torch of Torah ; as each has a different role in Tzahal (my son Ariel just completed his service), but with mutual cooperation and respect, so is the case in God's Army. Some are Satmar, raising 15 insular children, some Rav Kook, fully blending God's Torah and God's world.

Caroline Peyser equates the Book of Exodus with a search for identity in "Torah of the Mothers- Contemporary Jewish Women Read Classical Jewish Texts" ($30 from TOP). She concludes: "Alienation and identity play a central role in the Exodus narrative. Both on the individual and national levels, the experience of being a stranger and searching out one's past figure prominently in the process of psychological development. Moshe, the estranged son of his people, who grew up in the house of the enemy and oppressor, did not share in the immediate history of his people. In his privileged status as a prince in Pharoh's house, a safe distance from the mud pits of his enslaved brethren, he remianed physically and culturally disconnected from their experience. Yet he too knew, on a personal level, the meaning of being a stranger in a foreign land, and the struggle to separate from the surrounding culture, in an attempt to establish an independent identity. The correspondence between his personal odyssey and that of the Children 9of Israel provided him with intimate knowledge of their psychological experience, making him uniquely suited to serve as their leader."


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