SHEMOT (EXODUS 1:1- 6:1)
Updated: Jan 1, 2022
This week began the book of Exodus, and so so SO much happens in this portion its crazy. There is so much to say about this parshah (parashah?) but I feel like I have to start with some explanation of what has happened at least. (cue Inigo Montoya: “Let me explain... No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”)
Basically time passes and Joseph and his generation die, but the Israelites have been multiplying like mad, and a new pharaoh comes along who doesn’t know Joseph (more on the importance of THAT word later) and he gets super paranoid and decides there are way too many of them. So he decides to enslave them and then, also, kill off the first-born sons.
Side note: I found it sort of funny/not-funny (because infanticide is really never funny) as Fox points out here that societies are always SO male-focused that the pharaoh decides to kill off the Israelites by getting rid of the first-born sons, which actually shows an extreme oversight on his part, because who actually MAKES THE CHILDREN?? It’s the women, obviously. If you want to stop a race from multiplying, stop the actual multiplyers, which are, um, the ones with uteruses… the (presumably) women…. But anyway…. And of course this all leads to his downfall because, while obviously Moses did the things, WHO birthed and put that little helpless baby Moses in the basket? Israelite women, of course. But yeah, pharaoh, don’t pay any attention to those sexy lamps.
Aaannnnnyway. (side note over)
So. Pharaoh tries to kill off the first born sons, but no luck. A levite woman hides her baby (Moses) in a basket in the river, her sister keeps an eye on it, the pharaoh’s daughter finds him, asks the sister to hire her a "Hebrew nurse" to take care of the child (because she can see he's not Egyptian), the sister goes and gets the mom hired to take care of him for the pharaoh's daughter, and there, you get Moses, being raised with sort of one foot in each world. An Israelite, being raised as an Egyptian prince. Anyway, at some point he sees an Egyptian beating an Israelite, beats the Egyptian up, checks to make sure no one is around, and BURIES HIM in the ground? ok, fine. Yup. Then he finds out that people actually know about that, and runs away. Ok. Check. Then G-d appears to him, in the form of a burning bush and loads of things happen. (probably not in this order): G-d names himself. G-d tells Moses that he has to free the Israelites. Moses essentially refuses repeatedly but G-d sticks with it and also kinda gives him some magic to help other people believe him. OK.
Then he and his brother Aaron go to pharaoh and ask if the Israelites can go worship/have a festival in the forest (maybe this is like asking your mom for $5 right before you plan to ask her for $50, like you just want to see where her head’s at?). He says no, then punishes all the Israelites for Moses even asking.
OK. Geez that was a long sum-up.
To get on with things...I don’t speak Hebrew. I REALLY wish I did. So the things I say about this parshah (I’m just going to keep spelling it that way for now because that’s how I learned it first, but both of my rabbis spell it parashah so now my “good-student” brain doesn’t like it anymore when I spell it this way) may be slightly off because I don’t speak Hebrew and fact checking this stuff is a crazy rabbit hole, and I am going to tread lightly (and invite anyone to discuss).
So the word “yada”- ‘to know/knowledge’ appears over and over and over in this section (and in Exodus in general). And obviously anything repeated is important. Over and over you read this word in this section. And I read here (and somewhere else I can't remember from last year?) (referring to the Hebrew yada), that “…more often than not, however, in the semitic cultures and languages, to “know someone” means to have a relationship with that person, and very often, to have a covenant relationship with the one who is known.” It's about personal experience, not just intellectual knowledge. Which makes the ways it is used even more powerful.
(2:25) “G-d saw the children of Israel. And G-d knew.”
(3:7) "I am mindful of their sufferings (I don't know what verb is used here but maybe it is the same- so many times a word is translated in different ways... "
(3:16) "I have taken note of you" (again- i don't know what the original verb is but the feeling of KNOWING is the same)
(5:1-2) “I do not know the lord and I will not let Israel go: "
(6:7) “Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God…” (6:7)
(6:31) "When they heard that the Lord had taken note of the Israelites and that he had seen their plight..." (again I don;t know what the word is exactly...
Allll of this, to get to what I was thinking, as I was reading. About knowing people. And this idea of what it means to truly know someone.
I came out as transgender to my family when I was 37 years old. My mom lived 37 years of life with someone she thought was her daughter. My brother and sister lived and experienced the world with someone they thought was their sister. I knew my mom would struggle with it. But I expected my brother and sister to be there with me, for me. But they couldn’t. They weren’t ready. The thought they knew me. They had an idea of who I was but they didn’t know this part of me.No one did. But these were people I was really close to. Who can blame someone for feeling hurt or confused when you think you know someone but then find out you didn't? Moses tells the people- "g-d knows, he sees you". For me, this really was about what G-d is, and where, we, as humans, feel separate from one another.
When the text says that G-d “saw the children of Israel and KNEW them”- I take it to mean that they were 100% fully experienced. Fully, united. Incorporated as1. I think maybe that can only happen when you ARE ONE with the person. Which is why that sentence makes sense for g-d. I don’t really believe in a personified g-d, so this is starting to get even confusing to write about, but what else could truly KNOW you, except for the one thing that is ALL things? How can anyone ever know you, the way you know yourself? Anyone except, of course, g-d?
I often find it sort of hard to feel OK with writing sentences using g-d as a subject or an actor, or to even attach verbs to g-d. But if g-d is everywhere and everything, all things and all time, then yes, it makes sense to me to say that G-d knew the Israelites. In the same way that other people really can’t know me, simply because they aren’t me. I've had conversation after conversation with people trying to explain how this certain "trans" thing feels, or why I did this "trans" thing at this time, but it never goes just quite right. I'm alway left walking away feeling like theres a space that I couldn't traverse. But I always come back to where I am, and how I feel about where I am. One of the best things the transition process has been teaching me is to be OK with NOT being known by other people. They won't always get it. They don't have to. It's not For them. This is just ME. It's for ME.
Because I don’t think of G-d as a personal or personified deity, when I read the Torah, I often feel like my brain has to do this weird shifting tetris-movement of the words to make them make sense. Sometimes (like the binding Isaac) this is much harder than other times. But sometimes it really clicks. Sometimes it works. Maybe the process of reading the Torah more regularly has somehow meshed my idea of G-d, which I feel very secure with, with the G-d of the Torah somehow. Maybe they started working together in a way that made more sense to me, when they didn't before. So for instance, “G-d saw the children of Israel. And G-d knew” becomes something like “Awakening was always possible for the children of Israel” or something like that. “And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” turns into “And the Egyptians will understand that G-d is one and G-d is everywhere”. Maybe it's getting easier to make sense of? Maybe? Or maybe this is just an easier passage to get through...
OK. This was maybe the most rambly post to date, but I’m going to stop here, and count it as a win, because it’s got Torah, Tetris, Princess bride and the Bechdel Test all in one place.