July 16, 2024 ~ Shabbat BALAQ. Maqam MAHOUR.

Shabbat Shemot - שבת שמות


אלי בחיבה בנה נא אל ההודאות
רם ונעלם בנה אולם ממצרים
אל מאד נעלה פזמון ספר תורה

A New King

ויקם מלך חדש על מצרים - The plot of Egypt's "New King" represents an ongoing problem that continues to face humanity today. Pharaoh is introduced as "not knowing Joseph;" the hero who saves Egypt from the famine. Pharaoh, unprovoked, convinces others that the Israelites are a demographic threat and uses his pulpit to dehumanize them. He subtly uses divisive rhetoric to persuade his people; saying to "his nation" (ויאמר אל עמו) that "the nation of the Children of Israel (עם בני ישראל) are becoming bigger and stronger than us" (Exodus 1:9). Upon hearing these suggestions (הבה), the Egyptians, with the exception of the Hebrew midwives, are immediately complicit and do not protest his radical agenda (ויעבדו מצרים). What starts off as a debate about a demographic problem quickly turns into the brutal massacre of all male infants, because the Egyptians do not have the courage to do what is right and defend their innocent neighbors. Beth Torah Bulletin, January 6, 2018.

The Hebrew Midwives

ותיראן המילדת את האלהים - In a new era for Egypt, the king suddenly views the Children of Israel as a demographic threat, and secretly commands the chief midwives, Shifra and Puah, to engage in infanticide against all Hebrew males. Ignoring this decree, we read that the midwives had a "fear of God" and deliberately decide to disobey the orders. These brave women, who themselves were probably not Hebrews (as per Abarbanel), have completely risked their lives for the sake of following their consciences and doing what was right. The Torah informs us that this "fear of God" did not go unnoticed, and that these midwives, whose vocation was to build families for others, would now be rewarded with "homes" of their own. This interesting story, a rare spark of light in a world filled with darkness, is a stark reminder that God rewards people every day for making righteous and courageous decisions (Beth Torah, 1/21/17).

Why Do This

למה תעשה כה לעבדיך - The Tere Ta'ame, also known as the "double ma'arikh," is a rare cantillation note that looks like a rotated Shenei Gerishin under a word. There is disagreement about whether this is another conjunctive (Ma'arikh, Tarha) or an occasional replacement for Tebir. The Tere Ta'ame comes in place of a Ma'arikh, which is followed by a Tarkha. This note only appears 5 times throughout the Torah as follows: Genesis 27:25, Exodus 5:15, Leviticus 10:1, Numbers 14:3, and Numbers 32:42. The melody of the Tere Ta'ame is like a combination of Pazer Gadol and Tebir. In Exodus 5:15, this note is below the word "Ta'ase" (תעשה). The context of this is when the Israelite taskmasters are furious at Pharaoh for not providing straw to make bricks. They scream at Pharaoh, "Why do this to your slaves" (Exodus 5:15)? It is unclear what emotion this cantillation is trying to illustrate to the reader, and the commentators do not comment on this topic. Tiqqun Highlight, Beth Torah Bulletin, 12/29/18.

Not Consumed

וְהַסְּנֶ֖ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אֻכָּֽל - In His first appearance to Moses, God appears through a burning bush. Had this been an ordinary fire, Moses would have ignored it. What awakes Moses to pay attention is that this fire was active and yet "the bush was not consumed" or destroyed (Exodus 3:2). It is through this appearance that God chooses to reveal himself to Moses and indirectly to the Children of Israel. The commentator Hizkuni notes that the burning bush is a symbol for the Israelites and their enemies; at this time, the Egyptians. The fire symbolizes the enemies and all the forces that attack, and the bush that remains alive and unconsumed symbolizes the Israelites and their plight throughout history to survive against all odds. By extension, all people have an innate spirit within them that pushes them to survive despite having very dangerous forces around them trying to destroy them. It is this symbol that inspires Moses to have hope in his sacred mission. Beth Torah Bulletin, January 18, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: RAST / BAYAT

For Shabbat Shemot (Exodus 1:1- 6:1), Maqam RAST is applied to the prayers according to at least 20 sources. This maqam, defined as 'head' in Arabic ('Ras'), represents a beginning, and is applied when we begin a new book. This relates here, because Shemot is the first Torah portion in the Book of Exodus. Another opinion of using Maqam BAYAT (~16 sources), which sounds like the word 'bat' (daughter), is of significance, because Pharaoh allows all the Hebrew daughters ('bat') to live. PIZMON SEFER TORAH: El Me'od Na'ala (page 266); reference to Moshe and Aaron. Sephardic Pizmonim Project, www.pizmonim.com.