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

• Who were you named for? Do you know about that person?
• Why was Moshe given his name?
• Why is Moshe placed in a small boat on the Nile after he’s born?
• What special things does Moshe do when he grows up?

Questions for Older Children
• Who were you named for and what do you know about that person?
• How has that influenced your behavior so far?
• Why do you think the Pharaoh doesn’t have a name? (Pharaoh is a title, like king). 


Questions for Teens and Adults
• The parasha names the midwives but not the Pharaoh. What message might that transmit to the reader?
• Moshe seems alternately bold and meek. How do you account for the differences in his behavior throughout the parasha?
• Why does Moshe shy away from leadership? Do you think there are people today who might make good leaders who aren’t stepping up? Why?
• Why do you think God reveals God’s name to Moshe at the burning bush as "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh"? How do you understand the phrase?

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Name your own favorites

If you have a guest this week named Anna Pavlova or Charlotte Russe, you'll have no trouble deciding what to cook.  For the less flamboyantly named among us, you can select a favorite dish of one or more guests and name it after that person.

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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 seder—the Children of Israel 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

וְאֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
These are the names of the Children of Israel
--Exodus 1:1

A Shabbat dish named for a family member! This week's recipe is in honor of our rice-loving granddaughter, Georgia, who herself is named for her great-grandfather Geroge.


Names, sh'mot, matter. We already know the names of Yaakov’s sons, but they’re repeated at the beginning of this parasha. The new Pharaoh is not named-he’s identified as the one who didn’t know Yosef. If you recall ancient history chronicles, you‘ll remember that the most important time marker in these histories is the chronicle of the kings. Their names are the ones listed. Sh’mot (Exodus) is unique in listing seventy immigrants and neglecting to mention the name of the ruler. Two midwives are named but not the Pharaoh. So we don’t know if the new Pharaoh of Exodus is Ramses II or someone else; we know he’s The- Pharaoh-who-forgot-about-Yosef’s-contribution-to-Egypt’s-survival. Not naming him is the Torah’s own way of diminishing the ruler. On the other hand, God’s name that God reveals to Moshe is breathy and ineffable, a spirit of action.

Names still matter. We all spent a lot of time considering what to name our children and what qualities we remember about our children’s namesake. This Shabbat is a good time to reflect on our names—what do they mean? For whom were we named? How do our Hebrew and English names align? What do we think about when we think about making a name for ourselves?




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A Dash of Hebrew
Pharaoh’s daughter saves baby Moshe from the Nile and names him (2:10), saying, ki min ha-mayim m’shitihu– “because I drew him out of the water.” The Hebrew root, m-sh-h—to draw out from the water—is rare. The ancient Egyptian root, m-s-a, a child or son, is common in royal names like Thutmose, Ramose. Note that when Moshe receives his mission from God, he is not renamed like Abram or Jacob.

A Dash of Exaggeration

When Pharaoh readies his campaign to curb the Israelite population, he uses a tactic that dictators often employ--he exaggerated the threat posed to Egypt.  In Sh'mot 1:9 Pharaoh doesn't refer to just B'nei Yisrael but to Am B'nei Yisrael--the nation of the children of Israel. He further adds that the Israelites are becoming becoming more populous and stronger than the Egyptians.  How did the Israelite slaves suddenly turn into a nation?  Was it the increase in population or was it a justification for Pharaoh to begin the killing campaign of first-born males?  Think about how often since Pharaoh's time, leaders oversell a potential threat from within in order to justify oppression.


A Dash of History

How about those bricks?
Are the Israelites simply kvetching or was it tough work to make bricks and be one of Pharaoh’s builders? From historical sources we know that the walls of towns like Pithom and Ramses could be sixty feet high. Men were assigned a quota of 2,000 bricks to be made a day. One of the pyramids (of Sesostris III) is estimated to have taken 24.5 million bricks. The work was compartmentalized. Some slaves carried water, some gathered straw, some collected mud, some mixed the straw and mud, and the most skilled slaves placed the mixture in wooden molds. The bricks took about a week to dry. Complaints are registered not just in the Torah but also in papyri, leather scrolls, and inscriptions that accompanied wall paintings. Pharaoh may have exaggerated the status of the Israelite slaves but the Israelite slaves were  not exaggerating the hardships of slavery.

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Georgia’s Fragrant Favorite Rice
Pareve and vegan--serves 8 to 10

rsz 01 shmot georgias rice copy 1 copy


  • ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1 c. flaked, sweetened coconut
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 c. white rice
  • 3 ½ c. water
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Heat a saucepan on medium-high.
  2. Add cardamom and cook till fragrant, about 15 seconds.
  3. Add coconut to the same pan and cook stirring constantly until it begins to brown (about 2 min.).
  4. Reserve coconut-cardamom mixture.
  5. Add oil and garlic to the pan and sauté.
  6. Stir often and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds.
  7. Stir in rice and sauté 3 min.
  8. Stir in reserved coconut mixture, water, and salt.
  9. Bring to simmer and cover.
  10. Reduce heat to low and cook 20 min. until liquid is absorbed.
  11. Before serving, fluff with a fork and add cilantro and a dash of olive oil.

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