Shmot (Exodus)The Hebrew title 'Shmot' meaning names, comes from the first verse: 'These are the names of the sons of Israel.' The English name Exodus derived from the Greek meaning departure (like the word Exit) refers to the main event described in the book: the departure of the Israelites from Egypt. In the book of Exodus, we move from stories of individuals and families to the story of the Israelite nation. In Exodus, the Hebrews become a nation. The book of Exodus tells of the Israelites' enslavement, and subsequent deliverance with the 10 plagues. Moses leads the people out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea. They arrrive at Sinai, where they receive the 10 Commandments, and other rules. While Moses is on the mountain, the people build a Golden Calf. The remainder of the book describes the architectural details and the construction of a portable sanctuary, the Mishkan. The themes of slavery and subsequent redemption form the foundation for performance for numerous biblical laws. There are fifty chapters, divided into eleven parashiyot. The parashiyot of Shmot are: Shmot, Va'Era, Bo, Beshalach, Yitro, Mishpatim, Terumah, Tetzaveh, Ki Tisa, VaYakhel, and Pekudei.


Mishpatim: Whether or not we are slaves is dependent on whether we believe God is One.

From a literary point of view, the emphasis of the Torah now changes. Following Revelation and the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Torah moves away from narrative and continues directly with laws and legislation for the Israelites. This section of the Torah is known as Sefer HaBrit - 'The Book of the Covenant.' The word mishpatim means 'rules' or 'ordinances,' coming from the Hebrew meaning 'to judge.' This parasha contains 53 distinct different mitzvot (there are 613 mitzvot in the entire Torah), including civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, ritual laws, financial laws, and family laws. Specific laws in the parashah relate to sacrifices, slavery, accidental death, kidnapping, treatment of parents and responsibility for animals, and includes the famous (and usually misunderstood) Biblical statement of 'talion': eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth... (Ex. 21:24). Towards the end of the parshah, the calendar for the three festivals (Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot) is established, and then the people reaffirm their commitment to the covenant. Moses offers a sacrifice, and then he, Aaron and his sons Nadav and Abihu, and 70 other elders go onto the mountain again, and there they are treated to an extraordinary vision of God. Then Moses goes back up to the top of the mountain, and remains there for forty days.

Copyright: Kolel, The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.

These summaries and introductions are used with permission of Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Kolel is a dynamic, pluralistic, egalitarian institution where men and women engage in Jewish learning which values both traditional and liberal interpretations. Kolel is a gateway into a richer expression of Judaism for each individual, wherever their journey of Jewish discovery may take them.

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