Parashat Shemot - January 21

שמות Shemot

Ex. 1.1 — Ex. 6.1

Exodus 2.6: “’She opened it, and she saw the child, and the boy/youth was crying.’ It was a baby crying, and yet the fact that it says ‘youth’ teaches us that he was a baby with the voice of a youth; and he was a large youth, because we read ‘the youth Samuel was serving the Lord.’ Pharaoh’s daughter kissed him and hugged him and admired him, and she would never take him out of the king’s palace, because he was so beautiful and everyone wanted to see him. Whoever saw him would not want to pass on, and Pharaoh hugged and kissed him and even took off his crown and threw it down (as would happen to him in the future). . . . The daughter of Pharaoh is raising the one who will later be delivered from her father and his land. And even the Messiah who would later be delivered from worshippers of pagan gods was there with them, growing up in that country, as it is written (Isaiah 27.10), ‘there the calf grazes, there he lies down, and strips its branches.’” (Exodus R. on Exodus 2.6)



Exodus 2.8: “Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the girl [almah] went and called the child’s mother.”

Miriam is described here as “almah.” The Bible does not give her age, but it is clear she is still living at home and unmarried. In Genesis 24.14, 43 almah is equated with ne’arah (girl). This can help us understand that the prophecy in Isaiah 7.14 is speaking of a virgin giving birth: Behold, an almah shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanu-el.




Exodus 3.2-7: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush . . . God called to him out of the bush . . . ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. . . . Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings.’”

The Messiah is the messenger (angel) of the covenant and the messenger of the face of God. He is the divine person whom people can see without dying. When the angel of the Lord speaks from the bush, it is God speaking in the first person “I,” identifying himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


The form in which God revealed himself to Moses has been seen as a symbol of his identifying with the suffering of his people. The fire of the bush speaks of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt: “The Lord has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 4.20; see 1 Kings 8.51; Jeremiah 11.4).


Exodus 3.7-8: “Then the Lord said, ‘I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.’”

What a dramatic declaration by the Lord. Here is the Gospel in a nutshell. Is this not exactly why Jesus “came down”? He sees people suffering in slavery to sin. He identifies with them, feels with them, strongly desires to deliver them. We are told in Philippians 2 that the Messiah took on the form of a servant in order to experience death on a Roman cross and deliver us, who “through fear of death were all our lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2.15).

God does indeed identify with the sufferings of his people. In Isaiah 63.8-9 we read, “For he said, Surely they are my people, sons who will not deal falsely; and he became their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them.”

When God took on human flesh as the Messiah and came to save us, this was the ultimate expression of his identifying with our sufferings.




Exodus 3.14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”

Who is this Lord (יהוה) who revealed himself to Moses? At the beginning of the next parashah (Exodus 6.3) God will even say, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.” Abraham, after all, built altars to the Lord, יהוה (Genesis 12.7,8) and called on the name of the Lord, יהוה (Genesis 13.4), so what is different here? It was reserved for Moses to hear this name and its explanation from the burning bush. The name יהוה appears approximately 6700 times in the OT. The words “was,” “is,” and “will be” can be formed from its root letters: The Past, the Present, and the Future are united in God’s essential being. When Moses enquired about the name of God he received in reply the answer, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God is! He is the key to the whole of reality.

In the revelation of God in the Burning Bush the word “I” (anochi, אנוכי), which God uses of himself, is given as a “sign.” Small wonder that the Midrash sees here a reference to the Messiah:

“And he said, ‘I (anochi) will be with you’ and ‘This will be the sign to you’ (vs 12); What do these words mean? Our Sages, blessed be their memory, say that, ‘It is symbolic of the first deliverance, for with an anochi Israel came into Egypt, as it is said, “I (anochi) will go with you into Egypt and with an anochi I will lead you back from there (Gen. 46.4).”’ It is also symbolic of the latter redemption, as it is said, ‘I (anochi) will heal you and [in the Messianic times] save you.’” (Midrash Exodus 3,4)

And indeed, the name of the Messiah in Isaiah 7.14 is Immanu-EL, ‘God (is) with us,’ and he will speak in the name of God.

The Talmud sages see in the name Yahweh a reference to the Messiah: “Three things were created on the basis of the name of the Holy One: the Righteous, the Messiah, and Jerusalem.” [BB 75b] The thought about the Messiah is inferred here from Jeremiah 23.6 and 33.16, according to which God will raise up to David a Righteous Branch; “And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our righteousness.”




Exodus 4.20: “Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on the donkey.” The picture of a whole family riding on a single donkey led Rashi to say, “on the donkey” – the special donkey, the one that Abraham saddled for the binding of Isaac, and it is also the one on which the Messiah will be revealed, as it is written (Zechariah 9.9), “humble and riding on a donkey.”) (Rashi on Exodus 4.20)

The prophecy of Zechariah was understood as speaking of Messiah; and again says Rashi, “’Behold, your king is coming to you’ – this can only be interpreted to mean the Messiah.” (Rashi on Zechariah 9.9)

Another comment about the donkey is on Jacob’s words, “l have ox and donkey” (Genesis 32.5). The midrash wonders, since Jacob had many donkeys and oxen, why the singular ox and donkey? “R. Nehemiah said . . . ox and donkey, the ox refers to Joseph, as it is written [in Moses’ blessing of Joseph], “His firstling bull has majesty” (Deuteronomy 33.17). . . . and the donkey refers to Messiah the King, as it is said, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! . . . humble and riding on the donkey” (Zechariah 9.9). (Midrash Tanchuma, parashat vayishlah 5)

The donkey, then, becomes identified with the Messiah and even becomes one of his names. This animal represents the humility that will characterize the Messiah.




Haftarah: Isaiah 27.6 — Isaiah 28.13. 29:22-23

S: Jeremiah 1.1—2.3

T: Ezekiel 16.1-14

On Isaiah 27.10, see the quote from the midrash on Exodus 2.6.

Isaiah 28.12: “To whom he has said, ‘This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose’; yet they would not hear.” The Messiah will offer the nation rest. In Matthew 11.28-30 Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Shabbat Shalom!

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