Sedra of the week: Shemot

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Sedra of the week: Shemot

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn

The book of Shemot ushers in a new stage in Jewish history. A remarkable population explosion fuelled a xenophobic despot to enslave our ancestors in the most horrific fashion. These events, which we recall daily in our prayers and annually at the seder table, are without a doubt the crucible in which the Jewish people were formed. 

One of Pharoah’s initial attempts at genocide involved pressurising Jewish midwives to collaborate in his nefarious plan to murder the boys at birth. 

And he said: “When you deliver the Hebrew women, and you see on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall put him to death, but if it is a daughter, she may live.” (Shemot 1:16). 

Evidently, he thought it would be easy to have his slaves do his bidding, possibly even with a clear conscience, because after all they were ‘only following orders’.

In doing so, he grossly underestimated the strength of these remarkable women. Despite the fact they were living as slaves, with no apparent sense of self, they had an innate sense of morality. 

In what could possibly be referred to as the first ever recorded form of civil disobedience, they dared to disobey Pharoah. “The midwives, however, feared God; so they did not do as the king of Egypt had spoken to them,
but they enabled the boys to live.” (Shemot 1:17).

Listening to their conscience and taking responsibility for their actions, led to quiet, subtle acts of defiance that saved many lives. 

In deepest darkest Egypt, two unassuming women behaved with nobility and freedom, despite the threatening circumstances in which they found themselves. It was the ability to do so that sowed the seeds of redemption, the fruits of which we benefit from until today. 

  •  Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures and serves Finchley Federation Synagogue 

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