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January 3, 2015 – 12 Tevet 5775
Jacob, nearing death, asks Joseph to bury him in Canaan, then later adopts and blesses Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob then offers final words to his sons — some of them harsh, others filled with blessing. Jacob dies, and the brothers bury him in the Cave of Machpelah. The brothers fear once again that Joseph will take revenge on them for selling him into slavery years before, but Joseph reassures them that God meant for things to happen the way they did. Joseph dies and is embalmed, with his brothers promising that he, too, would be buried in Canaan.
January 10, 2015 – 19 Tevet 5775
A new Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” takes power in Egypt. Fearing the growing Israelite population, he enslaves them and orders that their newborn males be drowned. The heroic efforts of nurses Shifra and Puah prevent Israel’s demise.
One of the Israelite women places her baby boy in a basket and sends it down the river. Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the basket and adopts the baby inside, naming him Moses.
The adult Moses kills a slave master and flees to Midian. There, he starts a family and becomes a shepherd. Responding to Israel’s cries for freedom, God speaks to Moses in the presence of a burning bush, telling him to return to Egypt and to approach Pharaoh. Moses tries to dissuade God several times, but God is resolute, displaying examples of God’s power, and promising that Aaron, Moses’ older brother, would speak on his behalf. Moses’ initial encounter with Pharaoh is fruitless, as Pharaoh adds to the Israelites’ burden.
January 17, 2015 – 26 Tevet
God reiterates assurances that Moses’ mission will be successful and that the Israelites will be redeemed. We are provided with a genealogy of Moses’s family. Moses again approaches Pharaoh to demand that the Israelites leave Egypt. Pharaoh refuses; God turns Egyptian water into blood. Pharaoh says that he will let the Israelites leave, and God stops the plague. But then, Pharaoh changes his mind.
This is the first example of a recurring pattern: God causes a plague, Pharaoh promises to let the Israelites leave, the plague stops, then Pharaoh changes his mind due to a “hardened heart.” The pattern takes place seven times in today’s portion.
January 24, 2015 – 4 Shevat 5775
God afflicts an eighth and ninth plague upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God speaks to Moses to announce the first commandment for the Israelite people: to offer a Passover sacrifice on the anniversary of their impending exodus, and to commemorate the occasion annually in a festival. The final plague results in the deaths of all Egyptian firstborn. Pharaoh asks the Israelites to leave, and this time, he does not change his mind (at least not immediately). The Israelites leave Egypt quickly, taking Egyptian goods as they depart. God commands that the firstborn of every Israelite family be assigned to God.
Parashat Beshalah-Shabbat Shirah
January 31, 2015 – 11 Shevat 5775
Despite a roundabout path, the Israelites reach the Red Sea, only to realize that Pharaoh and the Egyptian army are in hot pursuit. God encourages Moses to continue forward even though they are surrounded by the Red Sea on one side and the Egyptians on the other.
Moses raises his staff and the sea splits, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land, and then collapses, drowning the Egyptian army. Celebrating their escape, Moses and the Israelites sing a majestic song celebrating God’s might; Miriam leads the women in song and dance. But the Israelites are quick to forget their good fortune, complaining to Moses about a lack of water, food, and meat. At times, they claim that slavery in Egypt is preferable to their current plight. God satiates the people, causing water to come from a rock, and food called manna to fall from heaven (the people are instructed to take a double portion prior to Shabbat).
The Amalekites attack the Israelites from behind, yet the Israelites defeat them. God says that Amalek will always be Israel’s enemy.