"ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה"
“And these are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt.” (1:1)

QUESTION: It should have said asher ba’u” (אשר באו) — in the past tense instead of “haba’im” (הבאים) — in the present tense, which suggests that they were arriving now?

ANSWER: When an immigrant comes to a new country, in the early period following his arrival he usually maintains his old customs. Upon becoming acclimated, he assumes resident status and adapts to the ways of the land.

Throughout their stay in Egypt, the Jews regarded themselves as newly arrived immigrants, they had “just come.” Not assuming resident status facilitated their determination to maintain their unique identity.

In the merit of not changing their names, their language, and style of clothing, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt. (See Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 32:5 and Pesikta Zuta 6:6.)

(עיטורי תורה)

* * *

Alternatively: the last letters of the words ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים can be arranged to spell the word Tehillim (תהלים) — the Book of Psalms, compiled by King David. In Egypt, the Jewish people was enslaved and experienced one of the most difficult times of their history. Throughout the time the Jews were in Egypt, they prayed to Hashem with the words of Tehillim.

“Mitzraim” also comes from the word “meitzar,” which means a difficult and tight situation. Whenever one is confronted with a difficulty, the best thing to do is to use the book of Tehillim as a medium of prayer to Hashem.

According to the Midrash Shochar Tov (124), during Yaakov’s 20 years in the unpleasant environment of Lavan’s estate, he did not sleep, occupying himself instead with saying Tehillim.

(אור דוד)

"ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה את יעקב איש וביתו באו"
“And these are the names of the Children of Israel, who were coming to Egypt with Yaakov; each man and his household came.” (1:1)

QUESTION: After the initial statement, “these are the names of the Children of Israel, who were coming to Egypt,” does not the remainder of the pasuk, seem superfluous?

ANSWER: When a person marries and raises a family, he is considered the head of the household. The entire family looks up to him for advice and guidance. Often, as he ages and the children mature, they take over the father’s position and begin to run all the family affairs. If a major move has to be made, they make the decisions and take their aged parents along with them.

The Torah is attesting that the children of Yaakov had the highest respect and greatest admiration for their father. Though he was already 130 years old and they were in their forties, full of zest and vigor, it was Yaakov who led the way, with the rest of the household following.

* * *

Alternatively: Yaakov was the tzaddik of his generation. His entire family looked to him for leadership and guidance. The final letters of the words "את יעקב איש" spell the word Shabbat (שבת). Each Shabbat the family would gather around the tish (table) of Yaakov Avinu. Being in the presence of a tzaddik was a source of inspiration, helping them endure the difficult Egyptian Exile.

The first letters of the words "שמות בני ישראל הבאים" spell the word "שִׁבְיָה" — “captivity.” Thus, we are cautioned that when exiled and in foreign captivity, we should gather around the tzaddikim of the generation.

(בעל הטורים, ספר נפש יהונתן מר' יהונתן בנימין הכהן ז"ל מסעליש)

"ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו"
“And the Children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly.” (1:7)

QUESTION: They bore six children at each birth (Rashi). Why did Hashem cause such a phenomenon?

ANSWER: According to the Yalkut, the Jews were enslaved in Egypt for a total of one hour. This enigmatic statement is explained as follows:

In Psalms (90:4) it is stated, “A thousand years in your eyes are like the day that has passed and a watch of the night.” According to an opinion in the Gemara (Berachot 3a), the night is divided into four watches. Thus, one day and one watch — which equals fifteen hours — are one thousand years in Hashem’s eyes. Consequently, to Hashem, 66 years and 8 months are one hour (1000 years ÷ 15 = 66 years and 8 months). Hence, the Midrash is saying that the entire Egyptian bondage was for a period of sixty six years and eight months.

Hashem had told Avraham that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for a total of four hundred years. In order to lessen the years of slavery, He increased the birthrate by six fold. Thus, six times the normal population working for sixty six years and eight months is exactly equal to four hundred years of slavery (66 years and 8 months x 6 = 400 years).

(פרדס יוסף בשם ר' מאיר יחיאל הלוי מאסטראווצא זצ"ל)

"ובני ישראל פרו וישרצו...ותמלא הארץ אתם"
“The Children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly...and the land became filled with them.” (1:7)

QUESTION: The Midrash (Shir Hashirim 1.15:3) relates that once, when Rebbi, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, was delivering a lecture, he noticed that the congregation had become drowsy. In order to rouse them, he said: “One woman in Egypt brought forth six hundred thousand children in one birth.” A disciple named Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Jose, said to him: “Who can that have been?” He replied: “This was Yocheved, the mother of Moshe, who was counted as equal to six hundred thousand of Israel.”

1) Is it not disrespectful for the students to drowse off during their Rebbe’s lecture? 2) Why did Rebbi use this particular unbelievable story to awaken them?

ANSWER: The episode related in the Midrash may be a metaphor for a period of Jewish history. The destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash took place in the year 3828, and Rebbi was born approximately 50 years afterwards. He was the leader of the fourth generation after the destruction. The Roman government oppressed the Jews bitterly and the Jews were losing hope for the coming of Mashiach and the ultimate redemption. Rebbi noticed that while he was propagating Torah, the community was “falling asleep,” thinking that there would never, G‑d forbid, be a Geulah — redemption — and that the galut is eternal.

In an effort to distract them from such destructive thoughts, he told them that in Egypt a woman gave birth to 600,000 children. The message to his generation was, “Do not despair! Our forefathers in Egypt thought that they were doomed to be slaves forever and there was no hope for redemption. Suddenly, Yocheved gave birth to Moshe, who ultimately took out all the 600,000 enslaved Jews from Egypt and brought them to Sinai for the giving of the Torah — the greatest event in Jewish history. Likewise, we should never give up hope. The salvation of G‑d can come in the wink of an eye, immediately and unexpectedly.”

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"וימררו את חייהם"
“And they made bitter their lives.” (1:14)

QUESTION: Why do the words “vayemararu et chayeihem” have a cantillation (“trope”) of a kadma ve’azla?

ANSWER: When Hashem spoke to Avraham, He told him that the Jewish people would be in Egypt for a period of 400 years. In fact, they lived in Egypt only 210 years. One reason for the Jews’ departure 190 years early is that the Egyptians made them work extremely hard. Therefore, in 210 years they had endured the equivalent of 400 years of normal suffering.

The trope of kadma ve’azla expresses this thought: The word kadma means to rise early, and the word “azla” means to leave. The Torah is telling us that they rose and left Egypt earlier than the appointed 400 years because “vayemararu et chayeihem” — “they made their lives extremely bitter” to the extent that 210 years were the equivalent of 400 years.

It is interesting to note that the numerical value of the words “kadma ve’azla” (קדמא ואזלא) is 190, the number of years deducted from the original 400.

(קול אליהו - זכרון ישראל)

"ותיראן המילדת את האלקים ולא עשו כאשר דבר אליהן מלך מצרים ותחיין את הילדים"
“The midwives feared G‑d and they did not do as the King of Egypt spoke, and they caused the children to live.” (1:17)

QUESTION: The words “vatechayena et hayeladim” — “and they caused the children to live” — seem extra. If they did not listen to Pharaoh, is it not obvious that the children lived?

ANSWER: In every hospital with a maternity ward, a small percentage of children die at birth.

The Jewish midwives feared that during the time of Pharaoh’s decree a child would die, and the mother would accuse them of obeying Pharaoh. Being righteous women, they prayed to Hashem, and through their prayers they “made live” even those children who would have died naturally at birth.

(מדרש רבה שמות א, ט"ו)

"ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמר כל הבן הילוד היארה תשליכהו"
“Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, ‘Every son that is born cast him into the river.’” (1:22)

QUESTION: The word “leimor” usually means “to say to others.” Since Pharaoh spoke to all his people, for whom was the message intended?

ANSWER: Pharaoh looked for ways to kill the redeemer of the Jewish people. Originally, he called the Jewish midwives and commanded them to kill the Jewish children. When this attempt failed, he called upon his entire nation to assist him.

Pharaoh feared that he would be accused of anti-Semitism for singling out the Jewish children. Therefore, he called together his people and told them, “The Jews are a threat to us, and we must unite to destroy them. To avoid being accused of anti-Semitism, I advise you leimor — to ‘say’ that the decree is not only for the Jews, but that every newborn male is to be cast into the river. However, spare your children while making sure that the Jewish children are drowned.” (Onkelos in his commentary writes clearly that Pharaoh’s decree applied only to the newly born children of the Jews.)

(הגש"פ טוב דבריך מר' שאול בראך ז"ל אב"ד קאשאוי)

"ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמר כל הבן הילוד היארה תשליכהו"
“Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, ‘Every son that is born cast him into the river.’” (1:22)

QUESTION: “Every son” includes the Egyptian boys. Why did Pharaoh add this to his original decree that the Jewish boys be drowned?

ANSWER: Shifra and Puah did not obey Pharaoh’s original order to kill the Jewish children. Pharaoh summoned them and asked, “The Jews have a rule — dinah demalchuta dinah’ — ‘the law of the government is binding’ — why are you not obeying my order?” The midwives told Pharaoh that this principle applies only to a law for all the residents of the land. However, since "לא כנשים המצרית העברית" — “the women of Egypt do not have the same law as the Jewish women” (1:19) — they were not obligated to observe it (see Choshen Mishpat 369).

Eager to kill Jewish children, Pharaoh then issued a decree that the Egyptian newborn also be killed.

(פנינים יקרים)

"ויצו פרעה לכל עמו לאמר כל הבן הילוד היארה תשליכהו וכל הבת תחיון"
“Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, ‘Every son that is born cast him into the river, and every daughter you shall sustain [keep alive].’” (1:22)

QUESTION: Pharaoh’s sole concern was for all the boys to be cast into the river, while the fate of the girls did not seem to interest him. Why did he add, “Every daughter you shall sustain”?

ANSWER: The word “techayun” means, “you shall be the actual source of their life.” Pharaoh ordered the Egyptians to cast Jewish boys into the river in order to cause their physical death. The same Egyptians were also told by Pharaoh that those children who would remain physically alive (i.e., the girls) were to be sustained by them, that is, assimilated and totally raised in the Egyptian way of life — in order to exterminate their Jewish souls.

This explains the difference in the command to the Jewish midwives and the Egyptians respectively: The Jewish midwives were simply told to leave the girls alone, “If it be a girl vechayah — let her live” (1:16). Pharaoh hoped that by telling them to let the girls live, it would be easier for him to persuade them to carry out his order to kill the boys. However, he told the Egyptians “techayun,” not just to let the Jewish girls live, but to make sure to assimilate them into Egyptian culture.

The Torah cites both decrees together in the same pasuk to indicate that “Every daughter you shall sustain” is a decree equivalent in its harshness and even surpasses the decree regarding the boys, “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river.” To destroy the soul is equal to the killing the body, and indeed even worse — for spiritual death surpasses physical death.

(לקוטי שיחות ח"א)

"ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא"
“And she saw him that he was goodly.” (2:2)

QUESTION: According to Rabbi Meir (Sotah 12a) the good thing about him was that he was born circumcised. How did Rabbi Meir derive that the word “tov” — “good” — alludes to this?

ANSWER: In the description of Hashem’s creation of the world, we are told for each day that He “saw that it was tov — good,” except for the second day. The reason is that the creation of the second day was incomplete. Therefore, when the creation of the waters is completed on the third day, the word “tov” appears twice.

Man is created incomplete, and he needs to be circumcised on the eighth day. Thus, the word “tov” cannot apply until then. Since Yocheved said that he was “tov” — “good” — obviously he was circumcised, and thus complete.

(ילקוט האורים)

* * *

Alternatively, when Hashem instructed Avraham concerning circumcision, He said “Vehayah le’ot brit beini ubeineichem” — “It shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you” (Bereishit 17:11), so the brit is referred to as a sign (ot). The pasuk is telling us that Yocheved saw that “oto”“his sign” — was “tov” — “totally complete.”

(נחל קדומים)

"ותשלח את אמתה ותקחה"
“She stretched out her hand and took it.” (2:5)

QUESTION: The word “amatah” is used for her hand because she was standing far away and Hashem miraculously extended her hand many amot — cubits (Rashi). What sense did it make to stretch out her hand?

ANSWER: From this we can learn a very important lesson: When a child has to be saved, a person should not stop to calculate whether he can succeed or not, and give up if the situation seems hopeless. If, when a child is in danger, we will sincerely do all that is in our power, Hashem will provide a miracle and the seemingly impossible will be accomplished very easily.

The same also applies to any challenge which arises: Never or give up! Do your utmost and Hashem will help.

(ר' בונים מפשיסחא זצ"ל)

"ותפתח ותראהו את הילד והנה נער בכה ותחמל עליו ותאמר מילדי העברים זה"
“She opened it andsaw the child and behold a lad wept...She said, ‘This is from the Hebrew’s children.’” (2:6)

QUESTION: Instead of saying “This is from the Hebrew’s children,” why did she not say, “This is a Jewish child?”

ANSWER: The King of Austria once issued an evil decree against the Jewish community. After much pleading, the King agreed to receive a delegation of Rabbis. During the meeting, one of the Rabbis began to yell. The King looked at him sternly and said, “Don’t you know that in the presence of a King one should talk softly and not yell?” The Rabbi apologetically responded, “Your Majesty, it is not I who is yelling. The loud voice you hear is the voice of the thousands of Jews who are in great jeopardy because of your evil decree.”

When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the basket, she was startled to see a little baby whose voice was strong and loud like a lad’s. Cognizant of her father’s decree to kill the Jewish children, she realized that the strong voice she heard was not only that of Moshe, but also the voices of all the Jewish children crying out through him.

(פרדס יוסף)

"ותקרא שמו משה"
“She called him Moshe.” (2:10)

QUESTION: Why is he called “Moshe Rabbeinu,” while the Rambam is known as “Rabbeinu Moshe”?

ANSWER: Though Moshe had many names (see Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 1:3), the name his parents gave him at birth was not “Moshe.” If so, why throughout the 120 years of his life did he keep as his official name the name, “Moshe,” which he received three months after his birth?

Indeed, he was well aware that his original name was not “Moshe.” However, he retained the name so as not to forget the one who had acted toward him with great kindness. Whenever he was addressed as “Moshe,” it would remind him of being drawn from the water by Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, and he would thank her in his heart. Thus, the term “Rabbeinu” follows the word “Moshe” to indicate that the name “Moshe” is Rabbeinu — our teacher — it teaches a lesson to humanity on hakarat hatov, the recognition of kindness and gratitude.

On the other hand, the Rambam is renowned for his scholarly works through which he educated many generations of Jews. Therefore, he is affectionately known as “Rabbeinu Moshe” — “Our teacher, Moshe Ben Maimon.”

* * *

Incidentally, it is not accidental that the words “Moshe Rabbeinu” (משה רבינו) have the numerical value of 613, since he gave us the Torah which consists of 613 mitzvot. Also “Rabbeinu Moshe” adds up to 613 because in his monumental work known as Mishneh Torah, he expounded all of the 613 mitzvot.

(ילקוט ראובני)

"ותקרא שמו משה ותאמר כי מן המים משיתהו"
“She called him Moshe saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’” (2:10)

QUESTION: What is the connection between the name “Moshe” (משה) and “Mayim” (מים) — “water”?

ANSWER: There is a system in gematriya (numerical value of letters) according to which each letter equals its value plus the cumulative total of all previous letters. i.e., א = 1, ב (2+1) = 3, ג (3+3) = 6, ד (4+6) = 10, ה (5+10) = 15, ו (6+15) = 21, ז (7+21) = 28, ח (8+28) = 36, ט (9+36) = 45, י (10+45) = 55, כ (20+55) = 75, ל (30+75) = 105, מ (40+105) = 145, etc.

Thus, Batya said, “I obtained the name “Moshe”(משה) , which equals 345, out of “mayim” (מים), which (according to the above method) also equals 345.”

(פרדס יוסף בשם ספר ארץ החיים על תהלים)

"וירא איש מצרי מכה איש עברי מאחיו ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש"
“And he saw an Egyptian striking a Jew, one of his brothers. He turned here and there and saw no one.” (2:11-12)

QUESTION: The Jews were slaves and constantly oppressed by the Egyptian supervisors. Why did Moshe kill this oppressor?

ANSWER: When Moshe visited his brethren, he observed their oppression at the hands of the Egyptians. Their oppressors sadistically derived joy in beating the unfortunate Jewish slaves.

Moshe perceived that this supervisor; before he hit the Jew, he “turned here and there” — i.e., looked to all sides — and only after he was sure that no one was watching him did he beat the Jew. From this Moshe deduced that the Egyptian obviously had a personal vendetta against the Jew and was hitting him for reasons unconnected to the slavery. Otherwise, he would have beaten him in the presence of everyone, as the other supervisors were constantly doing. Therefore, he came to the aid of the Jew and killed the Egyptian.

(שו"ת תירוש ויצהר סי' קס"ב)

"ויפן כה וכה וירא כי אין איש"
“He turned here and there and saw no one.” (2:12)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe not see the person who said to him on the second day, “Do you think you will kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” (2:14)

ANSWER: When Moshe saw a Jew being beaten, he could not believe his eyes. Why was an innocent Jew being beaten and nobody was protesting? Immediately, Moshe “turned here and there”: He ran to the police, to Government agencies, and to “humanitarians,” screaming at the top of his voice, “Do something! An innocent Jew is being beaten for no reason!”

After turning to all sides and getting no response, “vayar ki ein ish” — “He came to the realization [that the world] does not consider [Jewish blood] human.” Therefore, he had no choice but to take the law in his own hands and kill the Egyptian.

(שמעתי מהרב מנחם מענדל שי' אלפערין)

"ויצא ביום השני והנה שני אנשים עברים נצים...הלהרגני אתה אמר כאשר הרגת את המצרי...וישמע פרעה את הדבר הזה"
“And he went on the second day and behold, two Hebrew men were fighting... ‘Do you propose to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’...And Pharaoh heard this thing.” (2:13-15)

QUESTION: From the remark, “As you killed the Egyptian” it is obvious that the man witnessed Moshe killing the Egyptian the day before. Why did he wait till the second day to inform Pharaoh?

ANSWER: Moshe did not do a ma’aseh (physical act) to kill the Egyptian. He did it through dibur (speech) — by uttering the Sheim Hameforash — Hashem’s Holy name. Datan and Aviram thought that Moshe did not consider speech to be equivalent to action. Therefore, he was not guilty of murder.

On the second day, Moshe called one of them a rasha (wicked person) for only lifting his hand to hit another. Since what he did was only machashavah (intent), he said, “If you consider intent like action, then speaking is surely like action. Consequently, your killing through speaking is equivalent to a physical act, and you are guilty of murder.”

(פרדס יוסף בשם ר' אברהם מרדכי זצ"ל מגור)

"ויירא משה ויאמר אכן נודע הדבר"
“Moshe feared and said ‘surely the thing is known.’” (2:14)

QUESTION: Rashi explains that with this Moshe meant, “I was wondering what sin the Jews committed to be punished with hard labor, but now I see that they deserve it.”

What did Moshe see that made him understand why the Jewish people deserved the Exile of Egypt?

ANSWER: On the first day, when Moshe went out to the fields, he saw a group of Jews chatting among themselves. Suddenly, an Egyptian grabbed one of the Jews, separated him from his Jewish brothers, and began beating him. This is alluded to in the word “mei’echav” — “from among his brethren” (2:11). Moshe wondered to himself why none of the other Jews came to the rescue of the poor Jew who was being beaten? He thought that perhaps the Jewish people were very gentle or timid and unable to fight. Seeing no other alternative, Moshe killed the Egyptian.

When he visited the fields on the second day and noticed two Jews fighting among themselves, he realized that the Jews indeed knew how to fight, but that they lacked interest in helping a fellow Jew. Moshe now became sadly aware that there is hatred (sinat chinam) among the Jewish people. Therefore, after witnessing both incidents and recognizing the lack of Ahavat Yisrael among the Jewish people, he said, “Surely the thing is known,” meaning, “Now I understand why the Jewish people are in exile.”

(בינה לעתים - אברנאל)

"וישמע פרעה את הדבר הזה ויבקש להרג את משה"
“Pharaoh heard this thing and he wanted to kill Moshe.” (2:15)

QUESTION: Why was Pharaoh so angry with Moshe?

ANSWER: Once when Moshe was a young boy, while Pharaoh embraced him, he took off Pharaoh’s crown and put it on his own head. Pharaoh feared that Moshe was the redeemer of the Jewish people, who according to his astrologers was recently born. His advisor Bilam urged him to kill Moshe. However, another advisor, Yitro, said that perhaps Moshe’s interest in the crown was mere childish curiosity and that he should be tested. They placed before him a plate with valuable gems and a plate with red glowing coals. Moshe was very clever and was about to take the gems, but the angel Gavriel pushed his hand, and instead, he grabbed a burning coal. He put his hand with the hot coal to his mouth and burned his tongue, causing a permanent speech problem. This relieved Pharaoh and he changed his mind about killing Moshe (Midrash Rabbah 1:26).

Years later, when Moshe grew up, he went out to inquire after the welfare of the Jewish people and killed an Egyptian who was hitting a Jew. When this was reported to Paraoh, he was convinced that Moshe was indeed the redeemer of the Jewish people; and he immediately decided to kill him.

(מלא העומר)

"ותאמרן איש מצרי הצילנו מיד הרעים...ויאמר אל בנתיו ואיו...קראן לו ויאכל לחם"
“And they said, ‘An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds.’ He said to his daughters, ‘And where is he...call him that he may eat bread.’” (2:19-20)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe disguise himself as an Egyptian?

ANSWER: Yitro was the High Priest of Midian. When he gave up idol worship the people of the city excommunicated him and his family. His daughters were shepherds, and the male shepherds harassed them when they came to draw water for their sheep. When Moshe noticed their troubles and came to their rescue, they were very grateful.

Being very humble, Moshe felt that he did not deserve any appreciation or credit. He told Yitro’s daughters, “Everything that happens in this world is behashgacha pratit (by individual Divine providence). The fact that I am here today is not my doing but because of something that happened in Egypt. He went on to tell them that one day when he was out in the field he noticed an “ish Mitzri” — “an Egyptian man” — beating a Jew. Moshe then rescued the Jew by killing the Egyptian oppressor.

He continued, “When Pharaoh found out that I killed an Egyptian man, he sought revenge, and I had to flee. Were it not for the episode with the ‘ish Mitzri,’ I would not have left Egypt to come to Midian. Thus, I am actually here today thanks to the ‘ish Mitzri.’ ”

The daughters returned home and told their father Moshe’s explanation that, thanks to an “ish Mitzri,” they had been saved. Yitro concluded that surely it was a very honorable and humble person who did not want any credit for himself. Therefore, he told his daughters, “Such a respectable person should be invited to our home. It will be an honor to have him at our table and perhaps he will marry one of you.”

(מדרש רבה א', ל"ב)

"וימת מלך מצרים ויאנחו בני ישראל מן העבדה ויזעקו ותעל שועתם אל האלקים מן העבדה"
“And the King of Egypt died, and the Jewish people sighed from their work, and their cry went up to G‑d from their work.” (2:23)

QUESTION: Instead of “min ha’avodah — “from their work” — it should read, “al ha’avodah — “because of their work”? Moreover, why didn’t the Jews cry before the King died?

ANSWER: The Egyptians knew very well that if the Jews would cry to Hashem, He would answer their prayers and free them from slavery. Therefore, they made the Jews work extremely hard, and whenever a supervisor would notice a Jew crying, he would beat him and yell, “There is no time for crying; get back to your work!”

After Pharaoh died, the Egyptians, not wanting to forfeit the time of their slaves, did not let the Jews attend the funeral. During the funeral, while working, the Jews cried bitterly about their enslavement. The supervisors were unable to stop them because they claimed they were mourning the wonderful “dearly departed” King.

Hashem heard the cries of the “pretend-mourners,” which came to Him from their work, and knew that they were lamenting, not the King’s death, but their slavery.

(שער השמים)

"ומשה היה רעה את צאן...וינהג את הצאן אחר המדבר"
“Moshe was shepherding the sheep...he led the sheep far into the wilderness” (3:1)

QUESTION: Why is it necessary to tell us where he shepherded the sheep?

ANSWER: The Torah is now introducing Moshe as the shepherd and liberator of the Jewish people. The words “vayinhag et hatzon” — “he led the sheep” — can be a reference to the Jewish people (see Jeremiah 50:17: “seh pezurah Yisrael” — “Israel is a scattered sheep”). The word “achar” literally means “after,” and “achar hamidbar” can mean “to the letters that are after the word ",מדבר" i.e., נ, which is after מ, ה after ד, ג after ב, and ש after ר.

The letters נ,ה,ג,ש have the numerical value of 358, which is also the numerical value of "משיח" (Mashiach). At the very outset of his leadership he set his goal: To lead the Jewish people to the revelation of Mashiach.

(קול שמחה)

"ויאמר משה אסרה נא ואראה את המראה הגדל הזה מדוע לא יבער הסנה"
“And Moshe said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why will the bush not be burnt.’” (3:3)

QUESTION: In lieu of saying “yivar hasneh,” in the future tense, would it not have been more appropriate to say “nivar hasneh,” in the present tense?

ANSWER: The burning but unconsumed thorn bush represented the indestructibility of the Jewish people. This amazed him greatly, and he wanted to understand the spiritual secret that assured their survival. Hashem told him, “The place on which you are standing is holy land. In this place the Jews will receive the Torah, which will give them the strength to survive all attempts to annihilate them physically or spiritually.”

(שמעתי מהרב מנחם מענדל שי' אלפערין)

* * *

Rabbi Chanina Ben Tradyon was one of the ten martyrs who were killed by the Roman government. His body was wrapped in a Sefer Torah and consumed by fire. While he was experiencing excruciating pain, his students asked him, “Our teacher, what do you see?” He responded, “I see the parchment being burnt and the letters flying into the sky” (Avodah Zarah 18a).

He meant that all attempts of the gentile world to destroy the Jewish community and the Torah would fail. Even at a time when the “parchment” (the Jewish community), was being destroyed the “letters” of Torah would ascend and be transferred to another part of the world, where another Jewish community would be built anew.

(מצאתי בכתבי אבי הרב שמואל פסח ז"ל באגאמילסקי)

"של נעליך מעל רגליך"
“Remove your shoes from your feet.” (3:5)

QUESTION: Why did Hashem order Moshe to remove his shoes?

ANSWER: Unlike one who wears shoes, one who walks barefoot feels even the smallest piece of debris. In preparing Moshe to be the leader and teacher of Klal Yisrael, Hashem stressed the importance of “sensitivity.” A leader must be sensitive to even the most minute detail concerning his people.

(עוללות אפרים)

"ויאמר משה אל האלקים מי אנכי כי אלך אל פרעה"
“And Moshe said to G‑d, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?’” (3:11)

QUESTION: If Hashem had selected Moshe, why did Moshe doubt his suitability?

ANSWER: When Hashem notified Avraham that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt, he also promised that "וגם הגוי אשר יעבדו דן אנכי" — “And also that nation whom they shall serve I will judge” (Bereishit 15:14).

Yaakov feared going to Egypt till Hashem assured him "אנכי ארד עמך מצרימה ואנכי אעלך גם עלה" — “I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up from there” (Bereishit 46:4).

When Hashem approached Moshe to go to Egypt, in amazement he asked, “Whenever you spoke about Egypt, You used the term Anochi‘I personally will be involved.’ Suddenly, You are asking me to go. I do not understand it — mi anochi — Who is ‘anochi’ — is it You or me? Obviously it is You, so why are You sending me to deal with the Egyptians?”

(מדרש רבה ג':ד, ט"ו:ד')

* * *

Hashem responded "כי אהיה עמך וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך" — “Certainly I will be with you and this shall be the proof that I sent you” (3:12). What is the reason for the apparently superfluous words “vezeh lecha”? It would have been sufficient to say “veha’ot — “and the sign.” Moreover, since it could have said, “ki shelachticha” —is not the word “anochi” redundant.

All prophets conveyed messages from Hashem saying, “Ko amar Hashem” — “Thus says Hashem.” Moshe, however, was an exception, and he would use the term “zeh” — “this is” (Sifri, Bamidbar 30:2). The reason for this distinction is that Moshe was the only prophet to whom Hashem revealed himself face to face, and when Moshe would speak to Klal Yisrael, it was actually Hashem speaking through him (שכינה מדברת מתוך גרונו).

Hashem told Moshe, “I am not retracting my promise. Be assured that I will be there with you. The term ‘zeh,’ which only you are permitted to use, is the proof that through you ‘Anochi’‘I’ — will be there.”

"ויאמר משה אל האלקים הנה אנכי בא אל בני ישראל ואמרתי להם אלקי אבותיכם שלחני אליכם ואמרו לי מה שמו מה אמר אליהם ויאמר אלקים אל משה אהי'ה אשר אהי'ה ויאמר כה תאמר לבני ישראל אהי'ה שלחני אליכם"
“Moshe said to G‑d: Behold, when I come to the Israelites and say ‘Your fathers’ G‑d sent me to you;’ and they will tell me ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them? And G‑d said to Moshe: I Shall Be As I Shall Be; and He said: So shall you say to the Children of Israel: ‘I Shall Be has sent me to you.’” (3:13-14)

QUESTION: 1) Instead of “ve’amru li mah shemo” — “they will tell me what is His name” — Moshe should have said “veyishalu mimeni” — “they will ask me?” 2) Why did Hashem tell him to use the name "אהי'ה" and not one of the more familiar names?

ANSWER: To sell a product, one must show the potential buyer all its good qualities. If the buyer knows more than the seller about the product, the sale is very difficult for the salesman.

Moshe said to Hashem, “The people of Egypt are very great, and I am afraid that when I come and tell them that You — Hashem — have sent me, ve’amru li mah shemo — They will tell me, ‘We already know everything about Hashem; we even know Him by His personal name.’ When I hear that they know so much about you, mah omar aleihem — What should I tell them?”

Hashem told Moshe, “One of my names is 'אהי'ה' — ‘I will be’ — The word 'אהי'ה' has the numerical value of 21, and 'אהי'ה אשר אהי'ה' is 21 times 21 which totals 441. The word 'אמת' (truth) also adds up to 441.” Thus, Hashem assured Moshe, “You have nothing to fear. Just tell them the truth and they will listen. Truth is extremely powerful and will have the desired effect.”

(דגל מחנה אפרים - ר' ישראל מרוזין זצ"ל)

"ויאמר משה...לא איש דברים אנכי...כי כבד פה וכבד לשון אנכי"
“Moshe said...‘I am not eloquent...my speech is impaired and my tongue is slow.’” (4:10)

QUESTION: Logically, Moshe was right. Why did Hashem choose an emissary who was tongue-tied?

ANSWER: Pharaoh was very stubborn about freeing the Jews from Egyptian bondage. Moreover, Hashem hardened his heart and he became even more reluctant. Due to a series of wonders and miracles designed to demonstrate Hashem’s power, the Jews were enabled to leave Egypt.

If the Jewish leader had been an articulate and eloquent speaker, some people could have erroneously credited Israel’s liberation from Egypt to his power of persuasion. Therefore, Hashem selected Moshe who was not eloquent. Thus, his power of speech would never be interpreted as the cause of the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt.

(דרשות הר"ן)

"ויאמר בי אד-ני שלח נא ביד תשלח"
“And he [Moshe] said, ‘Oh L‑rd please send by the hand of whom You will send.’” (4:13)

QUESTION: Whom did Moshe want Hashem to send?

ANSWER: According to Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Moshe asked Hashem to send Pinchas. In later years Pinchas became Eliyahu the prophet who will be sent before “the great day” to announce the arrival of Mashiach (Malachi 3:23).

According to Midrash Lekach Tov, Moshe asked Hashem to send Mashiach. Moshe was also hinting to Hashem to spare the Jewish people the Egyptian bondage and allow them to immediately experience the ultimate redemption through Mashiach. Hashem refused because the Exile of Egypt was a preparatory stage to receiving the Torah, and through these two events the Jews would merit the coming of Mashiach.

* * *

The Midrash Rabbah (2:4) states that Moshe is the first and final redeemer. This does not mean that Moshe will be Mashiach because Moshe was a Levite and Mashiach will be a descendant of King David, who is from the tribe of Yehudah. The meaning is that Mashiach will redeem the Jewish people from exile in merit of the Torah, which was given to the Jews through Moshe. This is stated clearly by the prophet Malachi (3:22-23) in his prophecy regarding the coming of Mashiach: “Remember the Torah of my servant Moshe... [in its merit] behold I am sending you Eliyahu the prophet before the arrival of the great day (revelation of Mashiach).”

A connection between Moshe and Mashiach is also alluded to in the Torah: Yaakov blessed his son Yehudah, “The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah...until ‘Shiloh’ arrives” (Bereishit 49:10). According to Onkelos and Rashi, “Shiloh” refers to Mashiach, and the numerical value of the word "שילה" is 345, the same as “Moshe” (משה).

(עי' לקוטי שיחות חי"א)

"ותקח צפרה צר ותכרת את ערלת בנה"
“Tzipporah took a stone and circumcised her son.” (4:25)

QUESTION: Why is it our custom to perform a brit milah with a knife made of steel instead of a stone?

ANSWER: In the days of King Shaul, the Philistine Goliath challenged the Jewish people to appoint a representative to fight with him. David was a young boy at the time and accepted the challenge.

Goliath was dressed in steel armor and David approached with a slingshot and a few stones. He aimed at Goliath and the stone stuck Goliath’s forehead and killed him. According to a Midrash, Hashem asked the steel to make an exception to the normal order of nature and weaken itself, permitting the stone to penetrate it. In return, He gave him a present that the Jewish people would perform a brit with a knife of steel instead of a sharp stone.

(פרישה יו"ד סי' רס"ד ס"ק ז')

"ותקח צפרה צר ותכרת את ערלת בנה ותגע לרגליו"
“Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to his [Moshe’s] feet.” (4:25)

QUESTION: Moshe’s life was in danger due to his failure to fulfill his obligation to circumcise his son prior to leaving for Egypt. Instead of performing the circumcision by herself, why didn’t she tell Moshe to do it?

ANSWER: A Hebrew name is not merely a method of distinguishing one person from another, but is actually related to the person’s soul. This elucidates the statement in the Gemara (Yoma 83b) that Rabbi Meir carefully studied and analyzed the names of people (see Sha’ar Hayichud 1, Likkutei Sichot, vol. 7, pg. 308). In retrospect one often sees how the name fits the character of the person, and sometimes the name even indicates an event which may happen in the future.

Observing the dangerous situation confronting her husband, Tzipporah quickly analyzed her name. In it she saw the word, “tzor” (צר) — “a sharp stone” — and the number 85 (פ"ה), the numerical value of the world “milah” (מילה) — “circumcision.” Consequently, she understood that her spiritual mission was to circumcise her son.

(דגל מחנה אפרים)

"אז אמרה חתן דמים למולת"
“Then she said ‘a husband of blood because of circumcision’.” (4:26)

QUESTION: The word “az” — “then” [she said] — is superfluous?

ANSWER: A newborn Jewish boy must be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. The word “az” (אז) has the numerical value of 8.

Originally, when Moshe was swallowed up by the angel that appeared in the form of a serpent, Tziporah was not sure if this was due to a problem with Moshe’s circumcision or the delay of her son’s circumcision (see Da’at Zekeinim Miba’alei Hatosafot). Observing that the angel loosened his grip on Moshe when she circumcised her son, she proclaimed that “az — it is evident that because of the delay in circumcising my son on the eighth day, my husband was about to be killed.”

(פרדס יוסף)

"לא תאסיפון לתת תבן לעם ללבן הלבנים"
“You shall not continue to give straw to the people to make the bricks” (5:6)

QUESTION: Pharaoh intended to make their work more difficult, so why didn’t he continue providing straw and demand that they produce double or triple the amount of bricks?

ANSWER: Pharaoh was aware that anguish and anxiety is more debilitating than heavy work. People can endure overwhelming labor, but will collapse mentally when subjected to anxiety. The worry of where they were to get straw and the fear that they would not find it would take such a devastating toll on them that they would abandon any thoughts of going to serve Hashem.

(ר' יצחק זצ"ל מווארקא)