Shemot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week we begin by looking back to the names, Shemot”, of those who came into Egypt and then leap forward some 400 years to the birth of Moses. What has changed? The Pharaoh has changed; we are slowly being reduced to slaves but we too have changed.


The whole of Bereishit was about families but now, instead of being B’nei Yisroel, we have become, according to Pharaoh:

עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל
The people of the children of Israel

We were no longer a collection of families; we were a recognisable people although not yet a nation. The promise of the land in the Covenant had been given to Abraham and his descendants but we still had that ahead. It is an interesting question: did the people still remember?

Moses too had changed. As a child he would have been part of the Court although he was a Hebrew. It is as an adult that he would be faced with choices. We read:

It happened in those days that Moses grew up

What happens from here on is that he is no longer a bystander but actively sees injustice. He steps in to become involved. Moses slays the overseer who is beating a fellow Jew. He intervenes in the argument between the two Jews. He protects the girls in Midian who were being harassed by the shepherds.


The last year has been one of feeling oppressed by events. What developed, like a shining light, was the reaction and behaviour of many in our society. There were Individual and communal responses to the practical and emotional stresses of the pandemic. People showed care and became actively involved.


Sympathy with those who suffer is admirable but empathy and practical action is required. More than ever, the Jewish philosophy of "tikkun olam", "repairing the world" is especially appropriate.

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