Shemot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Sedra this week, Shemot, (translated as “names”), is commonly understood as the title of the second book of the Torah, the Book of Exodus. The original title was “Sefer Yetze Mitzrayim” (going out of Egypt). Nachmanides commented that the reason that the Sedra begins with listing the names (“Shemot”) of those who came into Egypt and had died highlights the reality is that whilst Bereishit was all about families we are now describing the story of a Nation.

The most significant characters in the early life of Moses are women; the midwives Shifrah and Puah and, of course, Miriam. It was the women who would protect him by defying Pharaoh. They had not forgotten that they were part of a family, the children of Israel.

The “children of Israel” have become the ”people of Israel” and, more importantly, God now uses the words

עֳנִ֥י עַמִּ֖י
My people

Moses, standing before the burning bush, hears the words

לְכָ֔ה וְאֶשְׁלָֽחֲךָ֖ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְהוֹצֵ֛א אֶת־עַמִּ֥י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִמִּצְרָֽיִם:
I will send you to Pharaoh, and take My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt

That phrase “my people” indicates the personal relationship which underlies the Jewish view of the world. Other religious doctrines make the people subjective to a deity, but we understand that we are personally engaged with God.

When Moses asks God to describe who he is there is the enigmatic reply

"Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh", translated as “I will be what I will be”

The secular New Year is just ahead and no one knows what it will hold. We are all on a journey, not just in our personal lives but also in the lives of our families and our communities. We are not asked to become another Moses but to reach out to become what we can aspire to be. It is a challenge not just for us personally nor is it for us nationally, but it is for the sake of the entire world about us.

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