Parashat Sh'mot Exodus 1:1-6:1
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Questions for Young Children

  • Who are some women who are heroes in this parasha?  What brave acts do they perform?
  • Why does Moshe's mother put baby Moshe in a basket in the Nile?  How do you think she felt doing this?
  • Moshe stands up to a bully.  An Egyptian taskmaster is beating a Hebrew slave.  How do you think the slave felt?  How do you think Moshe felt?  Have you ever stood up to someone who was making fun of someone else?


Questions for Older Children

  • How many names can you find in this parasha.  Why name the sons of Ya'akov at the beginning if the story is happening 400 years after they died?
  • If you grew up in a palace like Moshe did, how would your daily life be different than the Israelites'?  What makes Moshe stand up for a Hebrew slave being beaten by a taskmaster?  Does this happen before or after God talks to Moshe?
  • Why doesn't Moshe want to do what God asks him to do?  How does God convince him?
  • After Moshe and Aharon first talk to Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go, Pharaoh increases their work.  How does Moshe feel about that?  How would you answer Moshe's question in 5:22?

Questions for Teens and Adults

  • How is the birth story of Moshe similar to the origin stories of other heroes?  How is it different?
  • Moshe's call to serve God and B'nei Yisrael sets a pattern for the call to prophecy.  What elements are similar and what is different?  How do you understand God's name?
  • Moshe stands barefoot on the ground at the burning bush.  How do his questions to God show how grounded he is in reality?
  • The theme of the struggle between Pharaoh and God is apparent from the last verse of the parasha, 6:1.  What's the theme and what is Moshe's role?  How is this theme repeated in Jewish thought and prayer?
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Since this parasha brings us quickly to Moshe's birth and call to prophecy, centerpieces that remind us of Moshe are apt this week. Here are a few ideas:

  • Baby in a basket on a blue napkin 
  • A vase of reeds or cattails
  • A grouping of twigs with construction paper or crepe paper fire (burning bush that's not consumed).

Or focus on the Israelites' increased workload

  • Build pyramid from Legos or other constuction materials at your disposal
  • Bundles of straw and bricks



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In Parashat Sh'mot all the names (sh’mot) of Jacob’s sons are listed linking Sh’mot chapter one to the last chapter of B’reishit. The story is familiar from the sederB'nei Yisrael increase in number, a new Pharaoh arises. He fears the foreigners in his midst and concocts a plan to control their numbers by increasing their workload. When that plan backfires, the midwives are dragged into his scheme and told to kill the male children they deliver. The midwives’ civil disobedience leads Pharaoh to a harsher decree. Now all male Israelite newborns will be drowned. Once the scene is set, the story of Moshe’s (Moses's) parentage, birth, and salvation from the Nile is told. The narrative jumps from Moshe the baby to Moshe the grown-up who kills a cruel taskmaster and has to flee the palace. While in the wilderness, Moshe receives his mission from God at the burning bush. The theme of names returns. God gives His name to Moshe—Ehyeh asher Ehyeh—I am that I am. The parasha concludes with Moshe and his brother Aharon’s (Aaron's) first meeting with the Pharaoh demanding he let the Israelites go. The parasha ends on  a frightening note. The demands have enraged Pharaoh and rather than allowing the Israelites to leave, they are punished with harder work. Moshe relays this outcome to God who promises that with God's strong hand Pharaoh will change his mind.


Find the food connection...

וַתֹּאמַרְןָ הַמְיַלְּדֹת אֶל-פַּרְעֹה

The midwives said to Pharaoh...
--Exodus 1:19

Pharaoh’s Farro Soup!

The Side Dish

In last week’s side dish I considered B’nei Yisrael’s use of mummification technology as a way to adopt new ideas without sacrificing their peoplehood. The new technology enabled B’nei Yisrael to carry out the last wishes of Ya’akov and Yosef to be buried in Eretz Yisrael.

This parasha opens with an ominous new phenomenon—a new king who doesn’t know Yosef. Governmental and institutional change can wreak havoc on individuals especially when the new rulers erase or ignore institutional memory. Apparently this new king had ambitious building projects in mind along with a hearty dose of xenophobia. Despite their 400 year long stay in Egypt, B’nei Yisrael (or as Pharaoh terms them “Am (the nation)  B’nei Yisrael) are different and pose a potential threat. His paranoia of the outlier group living in Goshen justifies his enslavement of B’nei Yisrael and order to murder all their newborn male babies.

Consider the arc of Jewish History. This is not the only time a new regime loses any historical memory, scapegoats Jews, and then proceeds to oppress, exile, or kill Jews for their own gain.

Somehow we survived and we survived as a people. Pharaoh is gone and almost all of the historical Pharaohs and their nations have dissolved. We did more than survive—we survived with our identity and by continually renewing our traditions.



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A Grain of Information

What is farro besides a homonym for Pharaoh? Farro is a term derived from Latin for a group of three wheat species: spelt, emmer, and einkorn which are types of hulled wheat (wheat which cannot be threshed). Farro has been found in Egyptian tombs making the connection to this parasha more than a pun.  

Cooks be aware--some farro needs to be soaked overnight and some is quick cooking. The whole grain which needs to be soaked overnight has more nutrients than the variety picutred above. It can be used interchangeably with barley. 

A Dash of Grammar and Intrigue

The parasha names the midwives--Shifra and Pu'ah. They courageously defy the Pharaoh and save the male babies of the Israelites.  Their names are not in doubt but, because of the grammatical structure, their ethnicity is in doubt.  Originally the Torah text had no vowels and מילדות העבריות  (m'yaldhot haivriyot) could be read as midwives of the Hebrews--the construct form-- or Hebrew midwives, noun + adjective.  The former implies that the women were Egyptian and the latter implies they themselves were Hebrew.  Rabbinic midrash struggles with this issue and most land in the camp of believing the women to be from among the Israelites.  Recently a fragment from the geniza was uncovered that  revived the other tradition--the tradition of the Egyptian women who feared God and aided the Hebrew women in their birthing. Although there are hints in some midrashim about the tradition of the midwives as Egyptians, the majority of commentators favored the interpretation of Hebrew women as midwives despite the improbability of Pharaoh having a conversation with two Hebrew women.  Most interesting to me in the article about this genizah fragment ( is the idea that an alternative interpretation can be lost or surpressed.  I suggest reading the article in its entirety and thinking aloud with your guests about what difference if might make if we acknowledge two courageous Egyptian women as the midwives versus two courageous Hebrew women as midwives.


A Dash of Poetry about Names (Sh'mot)

Each of us has a name--Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky  (1914-1984)

Translated by Marcia Lee Falk

Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents

Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear.

Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls.

Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors.

Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing.

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love.

Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work.

Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness.

Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by
our death.

לכל איש יש שם

מילים: זלדה מישקובסקי

לכל איש יש שם

שנתן לו אלוהים
ונתנו לו אביו ואימו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו קומתו ואופן חיוכו
ונתן לו האריג

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו ההרים
ונתנו לו כתליו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו המזלות
ונתנו לו שכניו

לכל איש יש שם
לכל איש יש שם

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חטאיו
ונתנה לו כמיהתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו שונאיו
ונתנה לו אהבתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חגיו
ונתנה לו מלאכתו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו תקופות השנה
ונתן לו עיוורונו

לכל איש יש שם
לכל איש יש שם

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו אלוהים
ונתנו לו אביו ואימו

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו הים
.ונתן לו מותו

To hear this poem as a haunting song, visit

This poem is often recited at Yom HaShoah and Yom haZikaron (Memorial Day) gatherings.


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Pharaoh’s Farro Soup
Pareve and Vegan.    Serves 6-8

Ingredients                    rsz farro photo copy
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 medium large. onion, diced
• 10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 cup minced fresh parsley
• 1 tsp. dried oregano (1 Tbsp. fresh)
• 1 tsp. dried dill (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)
• 6 cups pareve chicken broth
• 1-1/2 c. farro
• 1 14-16 oz. can cannellini beans
• 2 tablespoons sherry
• Black pepper
1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onions and sauté for for 10 min. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are brown and have released some liquid, and onions are beginning to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Add carrot, parsley, oregano, and dill and cook for another 2 minutes.
3. Add broth and bring to a boil.
4. Stir in farro and reduce heat to a simmer.
5. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until farro is tender, adding more water if too much broth evaporates.
6. During last 10 minutes of cooking, add the drained beans.
7. Stir in sherry and season with black pepper.

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