There are a number of characters whose identities play a major role in shaping the narrative. Which characters have ambiguous or hybrid identities of some sort? Which do not? Check the מפרשיםfor comments on specific characters. Reflect on how identities are complicated in these פרקים, and why this might be of central importance at the beginning of the book.
The first two chapters of Exodus are ripe with generic characters and secret identities. Verse eight relates that “A new king arose Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This is very strange considering that Joseph single-handily saved all of Egypt from famine and served as Viceroy. Rashi relates the argument from Sotah between Rav and Shmuel. Either the verse means he literally was a new pharaoh, or that it was the old pharaoh had a change of heart and acted like a new one. Even if the verse means that literally a new pharaoh arose surely he would have still known about Joseph. This leads me to favor the “selective memory” opinion instead. In any event, the Pharaoh’s true identity is made deliberately ambiguous. I would venture to say that this serves to further highlight the truly evil nature of the Hebrew enslavement Whether the Pharaoh is new or old it does not matter. History was revised and Joseph was forgotten on purpose.
Excluding the list of descendants of Jacob that descended to Egypt, The first two characters to be named explicitly are the midwives Shifrah and Puah. However they do not hold onto their names for long. Rashi is quick to identify them as actually being Moses’ mother and sister, Yocheved and Miriam. What is especially curios is that later on in the second chapter Mose’s mother and sister are never even referred to as “Yocheved” or “Miriam.” Instead Yocheved is identified as “Daughter of Levi” (Verse 2) and Miriam merely as “his sister” in reference to the infant Moses (Verse 4). Amram, Moses father according to tradition, is also referred to by the non-specific diminutive “a man from the house of Levi” (Verse 2). Additionally, Pharaoh’s daughter is never given a proper name and is defined only by her relationship to her father. It almost seems as if the only character whose identity is either certain and defined is Moses himself!
Tanach’s tendency to rely on such seemingly one-dimensional characterization can actually be construed as a clever literary device. The whole narrative is constructed to emphasize Moses origin story as the savior of the Israelite nation. Other character matter only in that they are needed to further the raw plot. Amram and Yocheved as “a man from the house of Levi” and and a “daughter of Levi” are only important in that they inform the reader of Moses’ lineage. Miriam’s purpose as “his sister” is to act as plot device so that Pharaoh’s daughter ends up hiring Moses’ own mother as a nursemaid. Pharaoh’s daughter is only important because she is simply the daughter of the pharaoh. The narrative necessitates that Moses is raised as Egyptian royalty.
The only other two characters with unambiguous identities are Moses’ wife Tzipporah and his son Gershom. While I am not sure how to fit Tzipporah into my theory, Gershom’s explicit identification can be explain by the fact that his name provides insight into Moses’ emotional state during his exile in Midian. Gershom is explained as meaning, “For I have been a stranger in a foreign land.” (Verse 22). Lastly, Moses father-in-law is introduced as Reul but is strangely referred to as Jethro at few verses later at the start of the third chapter upholding the pattern of secret identities.
Read the text "Birth Legend of Sargon," posted on Angel in this folder. Reflect on the similarities between this text and Shemot 2. Consider in this light what Moshe's birth story contributes to the Torah's portrayal of Moshe, and to our understanding of his character.
For these questions, please use your own commentator to look for specific answers, but also reflect on the text independently, and feel free to respectfully evaluate the compellingness of what you find in the מפרשים. You may not find answers to all of these questions in any given commentator, so you are encouraged to also think about them on your own, or to draw on different commentaries.
פרקב: The Growth of Moshe
1. How does Pharaoh's daughter know the Moshe is a "Hebrew" when she sees him?
2. Where does Moshe grow up, for how long?
3. When does Moshe find out that he is actually Jewish?
4. What motivates him to "go out to his BROTHERS"?
5. What do we learn about Moshe from his two interactions in vv. 11-14?
The Birth Legend of Sargon of Akkad has several obvious parallels with Moses’s birth story in Exodus chapter two. Both Moses and Sargon were born in secret by a mother of priestly decent, placed as an infant in a reed basket sealed with pitch, and left afloat on river. Both Sargon and Moses were then subsequently found and adopted by a character associated with royalty— Akki the royal gardener vs. Pharaoh’s daughter. Akki is marked by the epithet of “drawer of water” while Moses very name as given by Pharoah’s daughter means “For I drew him from the water.” Additionally, as matter of pure conjecture, Sargon states “I became lord over and ruled the black-headed folk. Perhaps this statement can be associated with the obscure midrash that Moses ruled as king Ethiopia after he fled Egypt and before he ended up in Midian.
Putting aside the question of which story is older, we can see from the Birth Legend of Sargon, that the “baby-basket-river-leader” narrative was something that ancient peoples would be familiar with. The Torah taps into this “humble origins to powerful leader” archetype to quickly establish Moses as a character and explain his ability to effectively encounter Egyptians royalty on its own terms yet remain relatable to the humble Hebrews.
- 1) Exodus Rabbah’s explains that Pharaoh’s daughter knew that Moses was a Hebrew because she that he was circumcised. In my mind this a good simple answer. The text itself does not reveal the reason and Rashi does not directly comment on the matter. Instead, Rashi says the she saw the Shechinah along with Moses in the basket to explain the superfluous word “him” in verse six. I suppose that the fact the Shechinah was visibly hovering around Moses would also indicate that he was Hebrew.
- 2) Since was Moses was adopted in Pharoah’s Daughter it would follow that he was raised in the Egyptian royal court. The text implies this and Rashi comments that eventually Pharaoh appointed Moses him as administrator over his own house. Rashi does not comment on how old Moses was when he fled Egypt and Pharaoh’s household, but conflicting midrashic sources placed him at either twenty or forty. Later on in the chapter one of the quarrelling Hebrews berates Moses stating “Who made you a man” implying that Moses was still young so twenty seem more likely.
- 3) It would appear reasonable to suggest that Moses knew he was a Hebrew from a young age. The nurse maid appointed by Pharaoh’s daughter to care for Moses was in fact his own mother.
- 4) Building off of the above, perhaps Moses was motivated to “go out to his brothers” because of the influence of his mother who raised him as Hebrew within pharaoh’s very own palace. Alternatively, maybe the text is describing the Hebrews as Moses’ “brothers” out of sequence. Meaning, Moses went out for whatever reason and after seeing the terrible suffering of the Hebrews he developed an empathetic bond with them. Thus, they retroactively became “his brothers.”
- 5) We learn about Moses from his interactions in vv. 11-14 that he clearly was capable of great empathy, and that he was also willing to put his feelings into action. However, we also see that Moses was fearful of retribution and rabble-rousing. This is evidenced by the fact Moses looked around before he killed the Egyptian and that was scared when he learned that the two quarrelling Hebrews were witnesses. Rashi comments that the line “the matter has become known” means that Moses originally wondered why the Hebrews deserved such harsh enslavement, but after meeting the nefarious informing Hebrew duo he saw that they were deserving of such punishment. According to Rashi then, Moses had a rather harsh-justice oriented personality. After seeing that the Hebrews were not all upstanding individuals perhaps he no longer empathized with their suffering on as deep a level.
1. What is the connection between the calendar reform in 12:2-3 and the Exodus?
2. What is the meaning and significance of matzah in 12:8, prior to the Exodus taking place?
3. What is the festival in 12:14-20 called, and what characterizes it?
4. What role(s) does the ger play in the rituals described in Exodus 12?
5. In what ways do Moshe’s instructions in 12:21-28 agree with, and in what ways do they disagree with, what we have read until this point?
6. 12:40-41 are very explicit about the length of time the Israelites spent in Egypt. What problems does this number create, and how may it be resolved?
7. What laws are added to the pesah in 12:43-49? What are they doing here?
8. What in the פרק is relevant only to פסח מצרים, and what to פסח דורות? Is such a distinction even evident in the פרק?
1) The calendar reforms in 12:2-3 at first glance seem like a strange incursion, interrupting the flow of the Exodus narrative. They can be understood, however, as an act of nation building. The Israelites are leaving bondage in Egypt, embarking on a journey to the holy land and transforming into God’s nation. Thus, the exodus is the birth of Israelites nationality and it is fitting for that date to be marked as the first month of the new religious calendar.
2) It is very strange to introduce matzah, before the exodus takes place. How does the famous explanation that there was not enough time for the bread to rise before the Israelites fled Egypt fit with this? Perhaps this can be framed as God being topical and preempting the introduction of matzah. God is on the topic of calendar reform, the birth of a new nation, and the start of a new year. The lamb-sacrifice and exodus process is going to A) mark this new beginning/nation birth (and become a holiday ) B) be rushed, so heads up Moses and Aaron the Israelites will invent matzah and then have to eat it every year forever.
3) The festival in 12:14-20 is called a “remembrance.” It seems to characterized by abstention from work for 7 days, a prohibition to against eating leavened grain and a commandment to eat matzah.
4) The chapter stresses that converts have the same obligation to fulfill the rituals as natural born Israelites. Rashi states that this was necessary since the whole point of the holiday is to act as commemoration for the miracles God performed for the fledgling Israel. Thus, one might have thought that since converts were technically not involved in the Exodus miracles they would be exempt from the rituals.
5) Moses orders seem more detailed at this point in 12:21-18. Take for example the sprinkling with the hyssop on the doorpost, and the lack of instructions of how to prepare the lamb sacrifice. The order is also different regarding the portion about God smiting the Egyptian first born. Moses seems to surmise the blood-doorpost-God skips smiting process in his instructions.
6) The fact that is Torah so specific with its statement that the Hebrews were in Egypt for 430 years highlights creates a large textual inconstancy. If you try and construct a timeline based off the genealogy and ages of characters then the number of years spent in slavery should be much less than 430 years. Rashi explains this away by stating that years of exile began with the birth of Isaac.
7) Several laws regarding which classes of non-Israelites are forbidden and which are permitted to eat from the pesach-offering. They are likely introduced at this point as a response to the “great conglomeration” of peoples that journeyed with alongside the fleeing Israelites.
8) It is difficult to distinguish between the pesach offering of the actual exodus and the pesach offer for future generations. Indeed when Moses instructs the elders regarding the offering he ties it to future celebrations (12:25-28). Rashi states that the superfluous word “this” in verse 3 implies that the offering specific to the Exodus itself was to be done on the tenth of the month but not future offerings. Building of this explanation Rashi explains that the commandment to acquire the sheep/lamb before the 14th of the month as being specific to the Exodus itself because God wanted to give the Israelites more opportunity to earn merit.
Chapters 12, 14-15
The divisions between pesach mitzraim and pesach dorot, at least to me, seems a little hard to discern from the text. One division seems to be the difference between dates. God speaks to Moses on the first of the month, and tells him to tell the people to take a lamb/sheep for the tenth of “this month.” Rashi explains the word “this” as meaning that that only the pesach mitzraim was meant to be performed on the tenth. Later on in verse 6 says that the lamb “shall be unto you safekeeping until the fourteenth day of this month. “ The laws of pesach in Devarim differ from chapter 12 in Shemot in that the sacrifice must be done in the place “where God will establish his name in” while in Shemot his was there is so such place designated. This helps to establish the account of the sacrifice in Shemot as localized to the pesach dorot. Moreover, there is no intricate discussion of how to roast the sacrifice in Devarim like there is in Shemot nor is there urging to eat in “haste.” Eating in haste would obviously only be relevant to the pesach dorot. Lastly, the laws in devarim do not specify to sacrifice a “seh” (sheep/goat) rather to sacrifice from “flock and cattle.” Rashi explains the discrepancy by stating that “flock” merely harkens back to “seh” in Shemot, and that the cattle sacrifice really refers to an additional “holiday’ sacrifice that was brought alongsidethe regular Passover sacrifice by large group. This way each member of the group was sure to be satiated before eating the Passover sacrifice itself.
Verse 43-49 in Chapter 12 of Shemot deals with which categories of people are permitted to eat the Passover sacrifice. Slaves and converts are permitted to join in the consumption of the sacrifice provided they are circumcised. Meanwhile, resident aliens and laborers are excluded. Verses 43-49 are separated from the main collection of the laws of the Passover sacrifice, which appeared earlier in the chapter, by narrative. The narrative interjection consists of the death of the first born, and the departure of the Israelites and accompanying “great conglomeration” from Egypt. This sheds light on why verses 43-49 are set-off from the rest of the Passover laws. According to Rashi the “great conglomeration” consisted of, converts from other nations. The Torah was being topical introducing details relevant to the demographic at hand. Moreover, it could possibly have been concluded that since the Passover sacrifice is meant as a remembrance of the exodus, future converts that did not have ancestors would be excluded from partaking of the sacrifice. Verses43-49 teach that this is not the case.
Chapters 14-15 depicts the splitting of the sea, and the subsequent song of songs (shirah). The shirah recapitulates the prose narrative, but with a different emphasis. The shirah focus more on God and his glory, while the narrative is more concerned with the event at hand, the utter defeat and drowning of the Egyptians. A few verses before the shirah starts describes how “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” No verse in the shirah outright comments on the Egyptian corpses rather focusing on God “hurling horse and rider into the sea.” As Robert Alter comments, the shirah is divided into three sets of strophes tied together by structurally similar similes. Each time the shirah talks about smiting the Egyptians there is an immediate statement glorifying God’ strength.There is no relishing over the defeat of the Egyptians. Additionally, the anachronistic allusions to the future defeat of Edom, Moab and Canaan are better understood in a theological framework; the shirah appears to have a similar purpose to the makkot. To testify that god is the true master of world; He has control over nature and history and his interest in the affairs of humanity.