Category Archives: Exodus

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Shemot: Building Blocks to Slavery

Mortar Brick Nail artIn this week’s Parasha, the tides have turned on Bnai Yisrael. Yosef passes away, and a new king arises who “does not know Yosef” (Shemot 1:8). As a result of the decrees of the new Pharaoh, the Egyptians make Bnai Yisrael’s lives “bitter with hard service” (Shemot 1:13). The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 1:11 explains how the Hebrew word for hard service, “B’Farech,” can be split into two Hebrew words “B’feh Rach,” with a soft mouth. The Midrash explains that Pharaoh gently persuaded Bnai Yisrael to help him in making bricks. Continue reading

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Parashat Shemot

This week’s Parasha, Parashat Shemot, sets into motion a sequence of events that will propel Moshe’s leadership of the Jewish people. The narrative about baby Moshe in his basket lacks the mention of one important figure: God. Since the rabbis seek to link God directly with the earliest stages of Moshe’s life, the Midrashim turn their attention to Pharaoh’s daughter and her connection with God. Continue reading

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Vaeira: Fishy Situation

Fish nail art plague bloodThis week’s Parasha features the first seven of the ten plagues. Why is blood the first plague to hit Egypt? Nahum Sarna, a modern Bible commentator, explains how the plague of blood served to target the polytheistic beliefs of the Egyptians. The Egyptians worshiped the Nile and assigned it to one of their gods. The contamination of the Nile as a result of this plague therefore discredited that god. Sarna also explains that fish were a staple of the Egyptian diet. Continue reading

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Parashat Vaeira

Pharaoh would not have been a big fan of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he truly believed that Egypt was the center for magic arts. In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vaeira, Moshe and Aharon initially tried to prove God’s wonders to Pharaoh by demonstrating how Aharon’s staff could turn into snake. The Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 9:4 states that when Pharaoh’s magicians replicated the ‘trick’ that had been performed by Moshe and Aharon, the magicians teased them, saying: “You are bringing straw to Afarim [a city famous for its straw]!” Continue reading

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Bo: Tough Times for Pharaoh

Pharaoh's Heart HardenedThe Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 13:3 asks: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart in the first place? Since God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, heretics could argue that Pharaoh had no way of truly repenting as Pharaoh was a puppet of God. The Midrash explains that God tried to reach Pharaoh several times through the first five plagues but that Pharaoh took no notice. Therefore, God resorted to hardening his heart. According to Rashi, God intentionally hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that there would be more plagues brought to the land of Egypt. Continue reading

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Parashat Bo

Compared to lice, boils, and blood, was the plague of darkness really that bad? The Midrashim that discuss the plague of darkness emphasize the danger and severity of this plague. In Exodus Rabbah 14:2, Rabbi Nechemiah makes it clear that the plague of darkness was not a typical form of darkness as he believed that this darkness came from Gehenom, hell. Exodus Rabbah 14:3 discusses how the this darkness was a physically thick substance. For the first three days of the plague, individuals who were sitting or standing could change their positions, but during the next three days of the plague, individuals could not sit, stand, or even get out of bed. Continue reading

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Beshalach: Cloudy with a Chance of Manna

Manna Food Nail ArtLong before the publication of one of my favorite children’s books, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, dinner really did fall down from the sky. After Bnai Yisrael entered the wilderness, they complained to Moshe and Aharon that they were hungry and that they were better off in Egypt where they had food to eat. But before Moshe had a chance to lodge this complaint with God, God stepped in to introduce Manna, an edible substance, saying, “I will rain down bread from you from the sky.” (Shemot 16:4) Continue reading

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Parashat Beshalach

This week’s Parasha, Parashat Beshalach, contains a scene that many of us are familiar with from the 1956 film, “The Ten Commandments.” The splitting of the Sea of Reeds is ingrained in our collective Jewish memory. The Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 11:6 asks: Why does the Torah state that the waters “were” divided rather than the water “was divided”? The Midrash explains that this comes to teach that waters in wells and fountains across the world became divided at the very moment of the splitting of the sea so as to showcase God’s miracle to the entire world. Continue reading

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Yitro: The Yoke of Torah

Egg Yolk Nail ArtIn Parashat Yitro, God decides that it is time for Bnai Yisrael to live under the yoke of Torah. Why do Bnai Yisrael deserve to receive the Torah at this point in the narrative? Why did they not receive the Torah as soon as they were freed from slavery? The Israeli Bible scholar Nehama Leibowitz states that only once Bnai Yisrael had freed themselves from the marks of an “alien yoke,” namely that of the Egyptians, were they ready to bear the yoke of Torah. Continue reading

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Parashat Yitro

Parashat Yitro contains the Torah’s first version of the Ten Commandments. On the first commandment, Ibn Ezra, the 12th century Spanish commentator, asks the following question: Why does the Torah state that “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2) rather than “I am the Lord your God who made the heavens and the earth, as well as humanity?” Ibn Ezra explains how the first commandment was designed to accommodate different types of learners. Continue reading

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Mishpatim: Keep Each Other Warm

Argyle Nail Art MishpatimHave you ever wanted to just curl up in your blanket? Among Parashat Mishpatim’s many laws that regulate our interactions with one another is the following: “If you take your neighbor’s garment as security, until sunset you shall return it to him, for it is his only covering; it is his garment for his skin. With what else shall he lie? (Shemot 22:25-26)” The Torah provides us with a scenario in which a lender gave a loan to a person in need and kept that person’s blanket as a security for the loan. Even if the person in need did not have a chance to pay back the loan, the lender is required to return the blanket to him by nightfall.

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Parashat Mishpatim

At the same time as the rabbis wrote Midrashim, they also worked to perpetuate the importance of practicing rabbinic law, in addition to the laws of the Torah itself. This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Mishpatim, presents the rabbis with a field day of Torah laws and statutes. Several Midrashim explore the meaning of the very first Pasuk of our Parasha, “These are the rules [Mishpatim] that you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1). Continue reading

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Terumah: Holy Construction Zone

Mishkan Construction Nail Art

In Parashat Terumah, God gives Bnai Yisrael a blueprint for the construction of the Mishkan, a portable dwelling place for God. Modern Bible scholar, Nahum Sarna, explained how that now that the revelation at Sinai had concluded, the Mishkan would ensure the “spiritual welfare” of Bnai Yisrael. The Mishkan enabled Bnai Yisrael to access God in a new and meaningful way. Sarna stated how the Mishkan was a major step in helping to shape the organized religion of the Jewish people. Continue reading

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Parashat Terumah

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, God asks Bnai Yisrael to donate materials for the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The final product of the Mishkan will become a dwelling place for God as it states: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). On this verse, the Midrash in Exodus Rabbah 33:1 asks, “Can you conceive of a transaction in which the seller is sold with his goods?!” The Midrash tells a story about a king whose daughter married another king. Continue reading

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Tetzaveh: Recurring Donation

Olive Branch Nail Art TetzavehPaypal may have not existed at the time of Bnai Yisrael in the desert but the concept of a recurring donation did exist. Parashat Tetzaveh begins by explaining how Bnai Yisrael should continually bring forth olive oil to kindle the lamp of the Mishkan. The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah 36:1 gives two reasons as to why olive oil is God’s liquid-of-choice for the Menorah. According to the Midrash, just as an olive is pressed, and ground down in order to produce the oil for the light of the Menorah, so too did Bnai Yisrael have to undergo many hardships before being able to glow. Continue reading

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Parashat Tetzaveh

Parashat Tetzaveh may read more like a fashion magazine than a typical Torah portion as it gives a detail account of the garments to be worn by the Kohen Gadol, the high priest, and the Kohanim. The Kohen Gadol is commanded to wear eight clothing items, each of which are custom-designed for his work in the Mishkan. For example, the Choshen, the breastplate, will contain twelve gemstones, each engraved with the name of a tribe of Bnai Yisrael. Exodus Rabbah 38:8 explains that the reason the stones were placed in the Choshen was so that God would see them when Aharon entered God’s service. Continue reading

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Ki Tissa: Holiness in Time

Watch Nail ArtIn Ki Tissa, as we wrap up with the instructions for the Mishkan, we take a commercial break for a message from our Sponsor about Shabbat. God tells Moshe to convey to Bnai Yisrael, “Nevertheless, you must keep my Shabbatot” (Exodus 31:13). The use of the Hebrew word “Ach” “nevertheless” indicates that God wanted to make it clear that the construction of the Mishkan, holiness in space, should not supercede the observance of Shabbat, holiness in time. Continue reading

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Parashat Ki Tissa

Parashat Ki Tissa focuses on the first edition of the tablet. Who knew that God could be so technologically savvy? Exodus Rabbah 41:6 gives us a glimpse into the reason we now have a “Torah SheBichtav,” a “written Torah.” The Midrash explains that even though Moshe spent all forty days of his stay on Mount Sinai trying to learn the Torah, he kept on forgetting what he had studied. Moshe cried out to God: “I’ve spent forty days studying yet I know nothing!” In response to Moshe’s complaints about his unsuccessful cramming, God gave Moshe the Torah on two tablets so that Moshe could have a visual learning tool. Continue reading

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Vayakhel/Pekudei: The Artist

Paintbrush artist Nail artThe concluding Parshiyot of Sefer Shemot focus on the work that Betzalel, Bnai Yisrael’s artist-in-residence, did to complete the construction of the Mishkan. When Moshe introduces Betzalel’s work to Bnai Yisrael he states, “See! God has called by name, Betzalel” (Shemot 35:30). Ramban, Nachmanides, states that the word “see!” emphasizes how out of the ordinary it was to come upon a person as skilled as Betzalel. Since Bnai Yisrael were mostly accustomed to working with brick and mortar, it was unusual to find an individual so skilled in working with precious metals and stones. The Israeli Bible scholar Nehama Leibowitz emphasizes how Betzalel represented a generational shift from centuries of slavery to a Jewish future of innovation and creative artisanship. Leibowitz explains that this newness is the force of the word “see!” Continue reading

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Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

In this week’s doubleheader of Parashat Vayakhel and Parashat Pekudei, Moshe conveys God’s instructions that anyone “whose heart so moves them” (Exodus 35:5) can donate materials toward the building of the Mishkan. Bnai Yisrael contributed so many materials that Moshe had to ask them to stop donating toward the campaign. This would be any fundraiser’s dream! Why were Bnai Yisrael so eager to contribute materials toward the construction of the Mishkan? Continue reading

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