Tora Thoughts: Parashat Shemot 5778
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
They will Multiply and Grow!
This week we begin the reading of the Book of Exodus, Sefer Shemot. The Torah tells us that the generation of Joseph and his brothers died, but the Israelites were fertile and multiplied in Egypt. However, a new king arose over Egypt, a king who did not know Joseph. This new king was afraid of the Israelites, as he thought they were too numerous. He said to his people: “Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase…” (Exodus 1:10). The new king ordered the oppression of the Israelites with forced labor, in order to prevent them from increasing in number. However, the Torah says, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out…” (Exodus 1:12).
The Talmud (Sotah 11a) notices that the phrase “the more they increased and spread out” is written in future tense in the original in Hebrew. This is the biblical way of expressing the imperfect tense, meaning that the Israelites continued to multiply and grow (despite the forced labor). The Talmud quotes a Midrash in order to explain why the future tense is used here: “The Holy Spirit says this: You [Pharaoh] say, lest they multiply, but I say, so will they multiply.” In other words, the phrase is written in future tense to imply that despite any [future] effort from Pharaoh, the Israelites will continue to grow.
This midrash reminds me of the famous text vehi sheamda, which we sing during the Passover Seder. It says, “It is this promise that has sustained our ancestors and us. For not just one enemy has arisen to destroy us; rather, in every generation there are those who seek our destruction, but the Holy one, praised be He, saves us from their hands.”
Unfortunately, we have seen the Jewish people being hated, threatened, and hit so many times, for hundreds of years, in different parts of the world. However, our people endured the times of oppression and came back to flower again and again. In our time we are privileged witnesses of the strong State of Israel, which declared its independence only three years after the Holocaust ended. This year we are celebrating 70 years of Israel’s independence, yet one more sign that the Jewish people “will so multiply.”
We are the descendants of the brave Jewish people, who were able to survive so many adversities and grow to strength, again and again. Here we are, starting this year 2018, with the Jewish people facing many challenges, but, we hope, also taking advantage of their strength and numerous opportunities. May we be not only the descendants of the brave Jewish people, but also the fathers and mothers of many more Jewish generations to come! Am Israel chai! The people of Israel live on!