24/25 Dec: Shemot : Shabbat comes in 3:40 pm, ends 4:50pm
Parashat Shemot – Changing the World
There is an idea, all too prevalent in discussions on the state of the environment, that each of us is powerless to change anything. The beginning of this week’s parashah disagrees. Here, at the beginning of the Exodus narrative – when Pharaoh has enslaved the Israelites and it attempting to oppress the population through infanticide – the Torah portion hones in on several small stories. These are narratives about the women responsible for the survival of one particular infant: Moses. We, the readers, know who Moses will grow up to be, so when we read these small narratives, we know that they are important and world-changing. But that is not what the actions would have looked like to the characters in play.
First, we encounter the story of the midwives, who disobey orders to slaughter Israelite sons. They cannot save the Israelite children as a whole, but they can find excuses to allow some to live, and so that is what they do. Then, when Pharaoh issues a new command that the sons be thrown into the Nile, we meet Moses’s mother and sister, who hide him until it is no longer possible and then put him in a basket in the river in hopes that he might survive. And then we meet Bat Paroh, the daughter of Pharaoh, who takes the child in as her own – and even agrees to return the infant to his mother to be a wet-nurse. Together, the women of Egypt – the Hebrew slaves, the midwives, the daughter of the king – manage to save the life of one child. And, unbeknownst to them, that one child grows up to liberate the Israelites from slavery.
In the beginning of Parashat Shemot, the story is moved entirely by small acts of the seemingly powerless. Not one of those acts looks like it will affect the bigger picture. But we know, while we’re reading the story, that they will. How much power we must have, that our small acts of resistance can lead to revolution and redemption.