Thoughts on Parashat Shemot

This week’s Torah Portion, Shemot, Exodus 1:1 – 6:1,[i] begins “Now these are the names (shemot) of Bnei-Yisrael who came to Egypt with Jacob, each man with his family” (1.1). Why would the brothers’ names be mentioned again, if they were just recorded numerous times in Genesis 35.22-26 & 46.8-27; 49.3-27, the last occurrence as Jacob pronounced his patriarchal blessing on each of them? This listing in Exodus, however, is different in that it is well after their death. Rashi suggests that the reason “He (ADONAI) counted them again after their death was to make known how precious they are to Him.” The sons of Jacob were counted by their name, just as the LORD numbers the stars of the universe and calls them by name (Psalm 147.4). Yeshua once encouraged His disciples,

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10.30-31; Luke 12.7)

In an earlier comparison to birds, Yeshua taught His disciples that their Father in heaven feeds and cares for the birds of the air as well as all of creation – so they should not be overly concerned about their needs as their Father in heaven knows what they need (Matthew 6.31-32) and their Father in heaven desires to “give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7.11).

Another point, concerning names, is made in a web article by Chabad entitled What’s in a Name? [ii] The author notes in conclusion that “To preserve our humanity and to see another’s humanity, we must see them as a name – as an individual with a unique story and unique identity.” We know from the creation account that Hashem placed a part of Himself within humanity when He formed man.

Then Adonai Elohim formed the man out of the dust from the ground and He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life—so the man became a living being. (Genesis 2.7)

When we look at one another, whether friend or foe, by name, as individuals, uniquely made by the Creator – just as we ourselves are—then it is easier to look past the differences and look into that spark of the image of the LORD.

This week’s Haftarah, Isaiah 27:6-28.13 & 29:22-23, presents both depictions of despair due to discipline and judgment, as well as proclamations of hope for redemption and restoration. Despite the coming judgment on Israel’s disobedience, the passage begins

In days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and bud and fill the face of the world with fruit. (Isaiah 27.6)

Once again, as sure as there will be discipline, there will be restoration. Thus, we recognize the importance of the ending verses of this passage.

Therefore, thus says Adonai, Redeemer of Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob: “Jacob will no longer be ashamed, no longer will his face grow pale; for when he sees his children, the work of My hands in his midst, they will sanctify My Name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and stand in awe of the God of Israel. (Isaiah 29.22-23)

Jacob’s shame will be wiped away when the work of the LORD is recognized in their midst. Jacob’s returning to the LORD will cause the LORD’s Name to be sanctified not only in Israel but throughout the whole earth.

Rav Shaul wrote to the believers at Corinth, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and it was written down as a warning to us…” (1 Corinthians 10.11). The common Christian understanding of this verse is that the author is encouraging the Corinthians not to do what Israel did, thereby falling under judgment. While this is a valid interpretation, it is not the only one. A more positive understanding it to remember and hold on to the assurance that when we fail and fall under discipline of some sort – there is always a promise of redemption and restoration. All we must do is return to the LORD and He will return to us.

Therefore tell them, thus says Adonai-Tzva’ot, ‘Return to Me’—it is a declaration of Adonai-Tzva’ot—‘and I will return to you,’ says Adonai-Tzva’ot. (Zechariah 1.3)

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.


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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.