Family Corner: Parshat Shmot

Monday, December 20, 2021
Posted by: Family Corner

Family Corner is a space to offer interactive and thoughtful ideas for family engagement with the Parshat Hashavua (weekly Torah reading).  

This week in the Parsha we encounter themes of helping the less fortunate, standing up to tyranny, overcoming challenges, Jewish Pride, Standing up to bullies 

Parsha Summary 

  • The new king of Egypt makes slaves of the Hebrews and orders their male children to be drowned in the Nile River. (1:1-22) 

  • A Levite woman places her son, Moses, in a basket on the Nile, where he is found by the daughter of Pharaoh and raised in Pharaoh's house. (2:1-10) 

  • Moses flees to Midian after killing an Egyptian. (2:11-15) 

  • Moses marries Zipporah, the daughter of Midian's priest. They have a son named Gershom. (2:16-22) 

  • God calls Moses from a burning bush and commissions him to free the Israelites from Egypt. (3:1-4:17) 

  • Moses and Aaron request permission from Pharaoh for the Israelites to celebrate a festival in the wilderness. Pharaoh refuses and makes life even harder for the Israelites. (5:1-23)  

Torah Thought 

Introduction to Civil Disobedience and Social Action 

It is the book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah that we begin reding this week, that introduces us to examples of social action. 

On January 14, 1963, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave the speech “Religion and Race,” at a conference of the same name that assembled in Chicago, Illinois. 

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me.” While Pharaoh retorted: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed this voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” 

The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.” 

With these words, Rabbi Heschel invites us to understand Moshe’s struggle against Pharoah as a matter of human rights and social justice.  

Then there are the two midwives, Shifra and Puah, who refuse to carry our Pharoah’s order to drown all the newborn Israelite boys. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out that while we do not know much about them: “What we do know, however, is that they refused to carry out the order: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (1: 17). This is the first recorded instance in history of civil disobedience: refusing to obey an order, given by the most powerful man in the most powerful empire of the ancient world, simply because it was immoral, unethical, inhuman.” 

Here Rabbi Sacks reframes the refusal to follow the immoral orders of Pharaoh as part of a historical struggle that demands that we disobey immoral leaders, even if they come from those occupying high office.  

Two main themes of the book of Genesis are the universal idea of the creation of humanity in God’s image and the particularistic idea of the creation of the Jewish people. The book of Exodus, specifically the story of the enslavement of the Jews and the defeat of Pharoah highlights the universal lesson learned through a particular people - the notion that God takes the side of the weak and so should we.  

Talk to your family about: 

  • How can your family stand up for the weak? 
  • What other example of Judaism concern for social justice can you think of? 
  • What can we learn about standing up to bullies from the midwives? How can we apply those lessons to bullying in school? 

Activities, Videos, Crafts and More!   

  • Craft: Make your own Baby Moses that you place on the River Nile. 
  • Listen to this fun song, Baby Moses in a Basket, words and music by Ellen Allard 
  • Color this Burning Bush coloring page where God instructs Moses to free the Israelites! 

It’s never too early to teach your children how to stand up to bullies.  Here is a great parenting resource video where Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg explains a concrete way that you can raise an upstander using your child's lunchbox. 

How To Raise an Upstanding Child with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg                

PJ Library Recommendation  

Goldie Takes a Stand by Barbara Krasner 
Ages: 8+ Years  
Synopsis: Young Goldie was a natural-born leader. Long before she became Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel, she was tackling injustice in her hometown of Milwaukee! 

Devash (Published by Hadar): Devash is a weekly parashah magazine that makes learning Torah sweet. By engaging directly with texts and taking kids seriously as Jews, Devash helps children and grownups discover new ideas, values, and sweet morsels in the weekly Torah portion. Devash is designed for kids aged 7-11 to read independently, or together with families and teachers. 

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Category: Family Corner