Shai Berman's Exodus Journal


Yaakov and Famiily: Clear Identity, although moving to Egypt may not have been so commensurate with that identity.

Yosef: Hybrid Identity, member of the Israelite Tribe but also heavily involved with Egyptian politics and society

Expanded Israelite tribe: Ambiguous identity, do not know much about them pre-slavery.

New Egyptian King: Clear identity, a straight shooter. He fears the growing Israelite tribe so he sets out a plan to control them.  Eventually gets more concerned and decides to kill newborn baby boys/ throw into the Nile. He even goes as far as trying to kill his daughter's adopted son.

Egyptian Nation: Clear Identity, more than willing to enslave the Jews (This includes the Ish Mitzri in Chapter 2)

Meyaldot Ha'Ivriyot: Clear/ambiguous/hybrid identity,It is clear they they fear Elokim and therefore do not kill the baby boys and are even willing to lie to the king about it. They are ambiguous in relation the their affiliation; are they Jewish midwives or the Jews' Midwives. Hybrid insofar as the midrash identifies them as Yocheved and Miriam.

Levite Man: Oddly ambiguous identity. Instead of telling us his name, the Torah simply tells us what household he comes from.  Nothing else about him is known (at lease until chapter 6) although the midrash does fill in much information.

Levite woman: Ambiguous identity similar to her husband.  All we know is that she had a child who she saw was "tov" and therefore hid and and then put him in a "teivah," perhaps in and effort to save his life. Once she was informed that he was found, she nurse and raised him.

Son of Levite Man and Woman: Ambiguous/hybrid identity. Like his parents, we are not told his birth name.  Rather, he is known only by the name Pharaoh's daughter gives him, Moshe. In his early years, he finds himself a part of two worlds, the world of his mother, who nurses and raises him, and also the Egyptian world.  He appears to act on instinct when he kills the Egyptian man.  He seems to be compassionate person, as he feels the need to help his "bother" who is being harasesed as well as Reuel's (one of his 7 names according to chazal) daughters at the well.  He fears the consequences of his actions, as he looks both ways before killing the Egyptian man and then runs away.  He also clearly considers Egypt his home as he refers to Midyan as a foreign land when he names his son.

Daughter of Levite man and woman. Ambiguous identity.  We do not know her name but she clearly cares for her brother when he is placed in the "teivah,"

Daugher of Pharaoh: Clear identity, compassionate woman who saves and cares for the Jewish boy she finds in the river.

Two Jews: Ambiguous/clear identity.  While we do not know they are exactly, they are still two classic Jews: fighting and rebuffing authority.

Reuel's daughters: Clear identity, shepherds.

Reueul: Clear indentiy, Midyanite priest, kind man, invites Moshe in and gives him Tziporah to marry

Enslaved Israelites: Clear identity, they are suffering from their labor

God: Clear Identity, protects the midwives who fear him and takes note of the Israelites's suffering while remembering the promise he made to their forefathers.

As the book of Exodus begins, the reader is introduced to many characters.  While the non-Jewish have clear identities, the identities of the Jewish characters are more murky.  Even the character whom gets the most attention, Moshe, seems to be very conflicted. On one hand, he seems to to identify with his Jewish brethren, but on the other hand, he immediately flees when danger arises.  The ambiguity of the characters, and the narrative itslef for that matter (which jumps from Jacob's family, to a new king and his persecution of the Jews, to a seemingly random Levite couple, and then follows their son from the river, to an Egyptian palace, and then to midayn, only to return back to the Jews in Egypt), may highlight that lack of clarity that existed among the Israelites at that time.  They had gone from a prominent family with a vision and a plan, to a mere portion of Egyptian society, perhaps forgetting their lofty mission and goal.  As the book of Exodus contiunues, however, the characters from solid identities and Jacob's descendants form into the Jewish nation.

Week 2

The first half of the Legend of Sargon bears many resemblances to Shmot 2.  In both stories the future leader is born in secret, placed in reed basket, sent down a river, and then retrieved by somebody who raises them as an adopted parent. Within these narratives, though, there are some important differences.  Sargon claims to be the son of a high priestess, from a line of nobility.  Moshe, on the other hand, is simply the son of two anonymous members of the Levite family.  Additionally, while Sargon is brought up by a seemingly unimportant figure, Moshe is rasied by Pharaoh's daughter. Also, Aqqi seems to save Sargon by accident, while Bat Pharaoh actively decides to retrieve Moshe.  Considering the fact that, according to the commentary before the passage, the Legend of Sargon was commissioned in the 8th century BCE (a few centuries after Shmot was written, according to Jewish tradition), the similarities between the two texts may say more about the Legend of Sargon than Shmot.  From the differences, however, one can perhaps extract some information as the unique way in which the Torah portrays Moshe.  Moshe is not from a noble family. He is not necessarily destined for greatness, nor to lead the Jewish people.  On the contrary, somebody brought up in Pharaoh's palace might be the last person one would expect to lead the Jewish people to freedom.  Also, like Sargon, Moshe plays a completely passive role his upbringing.

1. From the fact that it seemed that he was placed in the teivah to hide him (and protect him), it was obvious that he was a Hebrew (Ralbag, the parentheses were my addition)

2. One could suggest that Moshe was nursed by his mother in his mother's house and then raised to maturity by Pharaoh's daughter in her palace.  The facts that he was "brought" the bat Pharaoh and she considered him a son seem to support this reading (My own, the Ralbag is silent on this issue although his comments on pasuk 11, which we be detailed in the next answer, seem indicate the he too believes that Moshe was mostly rasied by bat Pharaoh)

3. The fact the Moshe was a Hebrew may have been public knowledge in the royal palace or perhaps it was a secret but bat Pharaoh told him (Ralbag).  Alternatively, his mother informed him of this when he was very young (Me)

4. Perhaps Moshe went just like any curious young adult would go explore the country or to see the plight of his people. (Me)

5. From the the event in 11-14, we can learn a few things about Moshe's character. First, he identifies with the Hebrews and wants somebody who wants them to be treated and act correctly. Second, he is willing to take action to make sure those "correct" things occur (ex. killing the Egyptian and telling the two men to stop fighting).  Third, he is aware that his actions have consequences (he looks both ways before killing the Egyptian)

Chapter 12

Hashem to moshe

2: Rosh chodesh

3-11: laws of goat sacrifice

12-13: description of what will happen that night

14-20: details of a future holiday and its laws—this section seems very out of place

Moshe to zekeinim

21-22: laws of sacrifice

23: description of what will happen that night

24- 28: future holiday and question and answer session—also out of place


29-33: plague, get out of here!

34-39: Jews leave and take a lot of Egyptian wealth, and the erav rav with them- make matza

40-42: historical recap

Hashem to moshe

43-50: more laws of sacrifice---why are these here and not earlier

51:- recap

  • 1. The calendar reform may indicate to the Jews that this is the beginning of the birth of an independent nation. No longer will they follow the Egyptian calendar, but rather they will have a calendar of their own. In a similar vein, the Rav suggested that the calendar reform indicates to the Jews that they will no longer be slaves. Unlike free persons, slaves do not control their own time.
  • 2. The significance of matzah in 12:8 is likely not that Bnei Yisrael did not have time to let their bread rise as they left Egypt, because this did not happen yet. Likely, it had some specific meaning to Bnei yisrael at that time. Rabbi Menachem Leibtag suggests that eating unleavened bread was a way of rejecting Egyptian culture, as Egypt may have been the first society to “discover” leavened bread
  • 3. The holiday does not seem to have a name but it is most certainly characterized by the consumption of matza and elimination of seor and chametz.
  • 4. The ger also may not eat chametz. He is encouraged to partake in the sacrifice, so long as he circumcises all the males in his household. He has the same laws as the Jews in this regard
  • 6. The duration, 430 years, seems too long. There are only 5 generations from Jaocb to Moshe, and Jacob was already 130 when he came down to Egypt, so it’s more like 4 generation in Egypt. That would mean an a gap of over 100 years between generations. Perhaps counting back from Yosef might make it a little more plausible, but you would have to count from Yitzchaks’ birth or the brit bein habitarim, or lech lecha to really get to 430.
  • 8. Pesach Mitzraim: 1-13, 21-23. Pescach Dorot: 14-20, 24-28. 43-49. The distinction is somewhat clear if one reads closely but the fact that the sections are intermingled makes things more ambiguous.

Chapter 12 (Pt II)

1-13: pesach mitzrayim. Laws pertaining to animal sacrifice, blood smearing, and eating.

14-20- pesach dorot. Discussion of a holiday, consumption of matza and prohibition against chametz.

24-25: Moshe applies the sacrifice to generations as well. He doesn’t differentiate between sacrifice and the smearing of the blood

43-49: Sound like laws of the sacrifice for pesach dorot. Regulations on who can bring and eat from it.

The Ibn Ezra points out that it is not very clear which commandments apply to pesach mitzraim and which apply to pesach dorot. If we were to take Moshe’s comments in 24-25 at face value, it sounds like the laws of smearing the blood also apply to pesach dorot. Additionally, Ibn Ezra remarks although the reason why the sacrifice had to be roasted and eaten quickly while dressed to leave likely had to do with the specific circumstance surrounded Bnei Yisrael’s banishment from Egypt, but some of those laws (or remnants of them) are still applied to pesach dorot.

The laws in 43-49 seem to complete the instructions for pesach dorot. Some new laws are mentioned, and one prior law, eating in as a household, is restated in a slightly altered manner. To add even more confusion, the word “vayaásu” in pasuk 50 makes it sound like these laws were observed by Bnei Yisrael in mitzraim. All of this confusion makes it very difficult to determine exactly which laws apply to pesach mitzrayim and which apply to pesach dorot. This leads Ibn Ezra and many other commentators to search for the answer to this question in the oral tradition

When comparing the laws in chapter 12 to Devarim 16, one can find many similarities. The 7 day festival, the prohibition against eating chametz, and the imperative to eat matzah are found in both locations. Also, the hurried nature of the exodus is connected to matza in both locations (though it is also connected to the sacrifice in Shmot 12). Additionally, the prohibition of leaving any of the meat over until morning appears in both Shmot and Devarim. There are, though, some stark differences between these two passages. In Devarim it says that the sacrifice should be “tzon uvakar.” Tzon may be identical to the seh in Shmot but the addition of cattle has no parallel in Shmot. Also, in Devarim, there are new laws restricting the location of sacrificing and eating the korban; the household seems to be replaced by “makom asher yivchar Hashem.” Moreover, the imperative of roasting is replaced with a general command of “uvishalta,” cooking, in Devarim. Also, in Devarim, the exact dates of the sacrifice and holiday are not mentioned explicitly, there is no blood smearing, and there is an additional holiday (Shavuot) which is connected to the Bnei Yisrael’s redemption from Egypt.

Perhaps some of the differences can be explained by suggesting that pesach dorot is meant to commemorate the exodus, but leaves out those portions which related specifically to the circumstances of Beni Ysirael’s banishment. In Egypt, there was a need to eat quickly, so roasting was required. Hashem needed to be reminded which houses to spare (however one wants to understand that) so smearing the blood was required. Rlabag writes that logic dictates that there should be no blood smearing for pesach dorot, and also points out that exodus 12:26 clarifies that the “avoda” commanded by Moshe in 12:24-25 is only the “zevach pesach,” Furthermore, there may have been some inherent symbolism of a seh in Egypt which does not carry the same weight once removed from Egypt. (Alternatively, chazal say that bakar here refers to the korban chagigah. This position is quoted by many rishonim, including Ralbag.) Additionally, one can suggest that the communal aspect which was highlighted in Egypt by the laws pertaining to the household simply exhibits itself on a larger, nationwide scale at the “makom asher yivchar hashem.”

Chapter 15

The shira recapitulates the prose narrative only insofar as it describes the destruction wrought by Hashem upon the Egyptians. Unlike the prose narrative, it contains many praises of Hashem and descriptions of His unparalleled grandeur and might. Additionally, there is an added section which describes the effects of kriyat Yam Suf vis-à-vis other nations and speaks about Hashem’s resting place/temple and eternal reign. Also, when describing Egypt’s motives, their realization of “anusah mipnei Bnei Yisrael ki Hashem nilcham lahem” is conspicuously absent from the shira.

In terms of its structure, the poem is directed to Hashem and is also mostly about Hashem. Hashem is main actor in the poem. He causes the Egyptians to drown and the other nations to be afraid. This structure serves to highlight the fact that Hashem is responsible for what has occurred in Egypt and is a God that should be feared. Robert Alter suggests that the poem should be broken up into 3 strophes: 1-6, 7-11 (until “kosheh”), 11 (from “nora”)-18. The first strophe gives a general account of Egypt’s defeat, the second strophe gives a more dramatic account of Hashem’s might and Egypt’s defeat, and the third highlights the fact that, just as it was Hashem’s involvement which saved Bnei Yisrael at Yam Suf, it is Hashem’s actions which save Bnei Yisrael and quash their enemies throughout history.

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