The Exodus You Almost Passed Over | Notes

Posted on April 13, 2017


Rabbi David Fohrman. The Exodus You Almost Passed Over. Aleph Beta Press, 2016. (286 pages) Aleph Beta page; Stu Halpern, Jewish Book Council; Zev Brenner interview; Mayim Bialik review; Jewish Learning Initiative review;


To simply use the Bible as fodder for sermonics is to disregard its depth and sophistication. To confine the Torah to the realm of sterile intellectual curiosity is to similarly misunderstand and devalue it. (xxiv)

PART I Taking Apart the Exodus Story

1 The Angel in the Back of the Room

One gets the sense that the role of the firstborn children in the Exodus story is anything but peripheral. (5)

וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה:  כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, בְּנִי בְכֹרִי יִשְׂרָאֵל

וָאֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ, שַׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנִי וְיַעַבְדֵנִי

(Exodus 4:22-23)

The story begins with God’s statement to Moses that Israel is His firstborn. It ends with the Smiting of the Firstborn. It is commemorated by tefillin and by rituals such as the redemption of the first born. The firstborn theme is the fabric out of which this story is woven. To know the Exodus is to know firstbornness. (9)

2 The Exodus Game

(Exodus 10:23). Generally, we think of darkness as an absence of light. Ramban, in his commentary to Exodus 10:23, however, suggests that this darkness was different. Its cause was not an absence of light but a physical presence of darkness, almost palpable. Hence, the Egyptians could not circumvent the effects of the plague by kindling light for themselves. In a room merely devoid of light, one can light a candle and see, but in a place covered with the mysterious presence of darkness, lighting a candle is of no use at all. (12-13)

The truth is, why Moses needed to ask for just a three-day work holiday is really part of a larger question: Why did Moses need to ask Pharaoh for anything at all? (15)

One thing seems clear. For some undetermined reason, there appears to be an unwritten rule throughout the Exodus narrative, a rule that God is choosing to adhere to: the Israelites aren’t going anywhere unless Pharaoh says they are. | Why is Pharaoh’s consent to important to God? Why would God go to such lengths to secure that consent, even to the point of asking Pharaoh–seemingly deceptively–for just a three-day holiday? What was God’s agenda? What was He really after? (16)

But that’s not quite it either. For just when you think Pharaoh’s consent is everything, it turns out to be nothing at all. (16)

3 Power and Precision

For some reason, Pharaoh seems more interested in the precision with which God wages a plague against the Egyptians than in the raw power of the plague itself. (26)

4 A Tale of Two Speeches

SPEECH I, Exodus 5:1

וְאַחַר, בָּאוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה:  כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שַׁלַּח אֶת-עַמִּי, וְיָחֹגּוּ לִי בַּמִּדְבָּר

Thus says YHVH, God of Israel: Send out My people, and let them rejoice before Me in the desert.

SPEECH 2, Exodus 5:3

וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים נִקְרָא עָלֵינוּ; נֵלְכָה נָּא דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְנִזְבְּחָה לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ–פֶּן-יִפְגָּעֵנוּ, בַּדֶּבֶר אוֹ בֶחָרֶב

The God of the Hebrews happened upon us. Let us go, please, for three days in the desert and sacrifice to our God; otherwise, he might hurt us with pestilence or with the sword.

Here is a quick summary of some of the main differences I’ve found between the speeches:

  • WHAT ARE THE ENSLAVED PEOPLE CALLED? In Speech 1, Moses refers to them as Israel and God calls them My people. In Speech 2, the enslaved people are referred to as the Hebrews.
  • DIRECT OR INDIRECT COMMUNICATION? In Speech 1, Moses portrays God as communicating a message directly to Egypt: Thus says God: Let my people go… In Speech 2, however, God is not portrayed as communicating directly to anyone–neither Egypt nor Israel. God instead tells Pharaoh that God “happened upon us” (nikra aleinu), a phrase suggesting a kind of haphazard, unplanned encounter. And in that encounter, God didn’t actually say anything to the Hebrews. In this speech, the request comes from the people, not God: and now, let us go three days…
  • CELEBRATION OR SACRIFICE? In Speech 1, Moses says that the people are leaving in order to celebrate with God in the desert. In Speech 2, he says they are going to sacrifice to God.
  • WHAT HAPPENS IF ISRAEL DOESN’T GO? Speech 1 doesn’t suggest any untoward consequence for Israel if they don’t go. Speech 2 mentions that bad things might happen to the Hebrews if they don’t offer the sacrifices.

5 Much Ado about Names

PART II The Exit Strategy

6 What’s in a Name?

Is אלהים, (elohim) a word that means “power(s)” rather than “God?”

Just as the Ten Plagues are about to begin, God seems to be saying: Before we go any further in this process, there’s something I need to tell you. You need to know who I truly am. And to that effect, God tells Moses His name: it is YHVH. (49)

power is not His name. It is not who He is, fundamentally. God will make use of power, as He is about to do–but it does not define Him. Instead, the essence of God is about something else. It isa bout being YHVH. (50)

7 Do You Believe in Parker?

…a creator naturally exists outside the system he or she creates. (53)

As a creator, you can interact with the system you made: you can make the rules by which it functions. (55)

Despite all this, the mysterious fact remains that God asks humans to create a place for Him in this world: וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם “Make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among you” (Exodus 25:8).

8 More than a Numbers Game

In reality, though, numbers are just the veneer. The really significant differences between monotheism and polytheism are not quantitative, but qualitative. (61)

Paganism begins at the dawn of history. Its logic is the none-too-subtle calculus of fear. (61)

So that’s step one: pick your god. Step two? Try your best to appease it. As I mentioned before, gods in the polytheistic pantheon are powerful, but they aren’t all-powerful–which means they have needs. And if they have needs, they can be bribed; or, to put it more charitably, they can be bartered with. I can give the god something of value. And maybe if I do that, the god will not be so oblivious to my quickly-wilting crops. (63)

If a child buys flowers for Mom on Mother’s Day, that gift is meaningful even if mom has no “need” for the flowers, even if she could have easily bought them herself. A gift of gratitude is not about barter or fulfilling needs. It’s about finding a way to express genuine recognition to someone for their kindness. (65)

Love. The idea that a human being ought to actually feel love toward the Divine is perhaps the great innovation of monotheism. (66)

9 The Hidden Agenda

The Hebrews need redeeming, and humanity needs to know it has a Creator. (71)

Any particular plague can be chalked up to the action of a particular, annoyed, provincial god. No matter what force you decide to muster, the polytheist can fit the catastrophic events into his narrative. (74)

At some point, you have to sit back and ask yourself: How many gods, exactly, are angry at us here? And at some point, the simplest explanation is: Wait a minute–there’s no alliance here at all. There must be one force in charge of all of this. (In his groundbreaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn documents patterns in the ways that various sea changes in scientific thinking–what we call scientific revolutions–have taken hold over time. All the great scientific revolutions, from Copernicus to Einstein, he argues, were brought about through the slow accumulation of evidence, creating problems with the reigning paradigm. Eventually, a tipping point was reached, where people moved to a new way of seeing things–an approach that seemed simpler and less convoluted than the old way. The Ten Plagues would have worked in a similar fashion. Each plague alone was another nail in the coffin of polytheism. Eventually, the cumulative evidence brought to bear by the plagues, collectively, would be unimpeachable. (76)

10 The Case for Monotheism

As it turns out, the issue of power versus precision is one of the overlooked crossroads where the paths of paganism and monotheism diverge. (79)

In a polytheistic universe, you would see lots of power, but very little control. … It is control, therefore–the precise, pinpointed application of power–that really gets Pharaoh’s attention. Precise control over the plagues, even more than their power, calls into question the intellectual foundations of paganism. (80)

Fire is frozen inside the ice. If there were ever two gods that could be counted upon to never join forces, it would have to be the ice and fire gods. They are sworn enemies: mere contact between them leads to their mutual extinction. (82)

11 Stubbornness and Courage

Pharaoh’s recognition of the Creator, in order to be meaningful, must be something Pharaoh genuinely comes to. Making Pharaoh appear to recognize God through some kind of divine sleight of hand, like depriving him of free will, would be cheating, and, frankly, pointless. (83)

Pharaoh’s struggle to hold onto his slaves is not just an economic battle. It is also a struggle to hold onto his conception of himself. Were he to concede that the force opposing him is actually his Creator–well, that he comes with a shattering and humbling duty to reappraise who he really is. (89)

PART III Putting the Exodus Story Back Together Again

12 The Path Not Taken

וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה–מִי יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ, לְשַׁלַּח אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל

Who is YHVH that I should listen to his voice to let Israel go? I do not know YHVH, and what’s more, I will not let Israel go! (Exodus 5:2)

13 The Journey to Tomorrowland

We regard “strength of heart” as a synonym for courage, and “hardness of heart” as a synonym for stubbornness. (103)

Pharaoh thinks of himself as courageous, but God Himself sees things differently. As God expresses it to Moses, כָּבֵד לֵב פַּרְעֹה– he’s made himself stubborn. (105)

וְהַכְבֵּד אֶת-לִבּוֹ

And Pharaoh hardened his heart… (Exodus 8:11)

It’s the first time the text uses that language. All of a sudden, the Torah characterizes Pharaoh’s decision to hold on to his slaves as an act of stubbornness. What earlier was seen as courage is now deemed blind obstinacy. What changed? (109)

14 Escalation

But remember, in a polytheistic society such as Egypt, saying something is a manifestation of the divine is not the same thing as saying it is the work of God, as you and I know that term. Indeed, when talking to Pharaoh, the astrologers used the word elohim, the generic name for a divine power. They are not ratifying Moses’s outrageous vision of a Creator-God. Rather, a mere god has struck us. (111)

15 Hail to the King

וַיְחַזֵּק יְהוָה אֶת-לֵב פַּרְעֹה

And God strengthened the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12)

For the first time, during the sixth plague, God is on record as having interfered, so to speak, in the affairs of Pharaoh’s heart. (119)

His Heart Is the Battlefield (120)

16 The Desecration of Remorse

Why, all of a sudden, does the Bible view Pharaoh’s actions as “sinful”? (129)

This is the first time that the text has used both key phrases at once–kibbud halev and chizuk halev–to describe Pharaoh’s state of mind:

 וַיַּרְא פַּרְעֹה, כִּי-חָדַל הַמָּטָר וְהַבָּרָד וְהַקֹּלֹת–וַיֹּסֶף לַחֲטֹא; וַיַּכְבֵּד לִבּוֹ, הוּא וַעֲבָדָיו

וַיֶּחֱזַק לֵב פַּרְעֹה, וְלֹא שִׁלַּח אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

When Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail and the thunders had ceased–be continued to sin, and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. And Pharaoh’s heart became strengthened, and he did not send out the Children of Israel (Exodus 9:34-35)

תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן-בִּנְךָ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם

You will be able to tell your children, and your children’s children, how I played with Egypt (Exodus 10:2)

17 Pharaoh’s Last Refuge

Stubbornness in the face of all comers, even the facts, would be his final refuge. His own hardened heart would become his fortress. (135)

Denial of reality is never a strength; it is always a weakness. (136)

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים, עַד-מָתַי מֵאַנְתָּ לֵעָנֹת מִפָּנָי; שַׁלַּח עַמִּי, וְיַעַבְדֻנִי

And Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and said to him: Thus says YHVH, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you withhold yourself from bowing in submission before Me? Send out my people that they may serve Me!’ (Exodus 10:3)

I’ve translated the Hebrew word le’anot here as “bow in submission.” But to put that in context, keep in mind that the verb here, ‘a-h-h (ענה), appearing as it does in its pi’el form, is the classic Hebrew term for “enslavement” or “oppression.” It is, in fact, the precise term the Torah used earlier to describe the Egyptian subjugation of Israel. [ Exodus 1:11, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עָלָיו שָׂרֵי מִסִּים, לְמַעַן עַנֹּתוֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָם, “they set over them taskmasters to oppress them with their burdens.”]

From the seventh plague onward, Pharaoh will be deprived of the chance to give in, simply because his own sense of self will not let him do it. Stubbornness shall now yield even more stubbornness. Pride will keep Pharaoh in the fight, even as his imminent destruction looms. His ego will be his undoing. (139)

Until now, the Israelites have had diplomatic immunity from the plagues, as if they are driving around with United Nations license plates and couldn’t be ticketed. But suddenly, when the tenth plague rolls around, the Children of Israel are no longer granted this automatic immunity. We are led to believe that Israelite firstborn will perish along with Egyptian firstborn unless the Israelites do something. They need to bring a special offering known as Korban Pesach, the “Pesach offering,” and place blood from this offering on the doorposts of their homes. (145)

18 Birth Night

If you made the choice, that night, to become God’s bechor, the bechor of the Transcendent Parent, you would survive. If you were the bechor only of an earthly parent, you would perish. (147)

…the Korban Pesach actually did somethng: it transformed the people from a band of slaves into an independent nation committed to God in a certain, special way–a way that could best be described through the designation bechor. (148)

It suggested a willingness on the part of Israel to do something deeply personal for the Creator, to play a special role within God’s “family”–a role that helps bind the family together. It suggested their willingness to be God’s bechor, his “firstborn child.” (148)

The audacious idea of monotheism is that we humans have a Heavenly Parent–and consequently, we are all brothers and sisters; members, as it were, of a grand “divine family.” (149)

Looking back on it, there was a certain justice in the ultimatum Moses delivered to the Egyptian king before the plagues: Allow my bechor to serve Me, or lose your own bechorot, Pharaoh. (153)

If Pharaoh denied the Almighty this, then God would deprive Egypt of the very same benefit: How will you transmit the values of Egypt from generation to generation without the benefit of your child-leaders? (153)

With the blood on their doors, they were, in effect, saying to their masters, to Pharaoh, and to themselves: Egypt stops at this door. Within this house, monotheism reigns. (154)

19 Creation and Uncreation

וַיָּבֹא בֵּין מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם, וּבֵין מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיְהִי הֶעָנָן וְהַחֹשֶׁךְ, וַיָּאֶר אֶת-הַלָּיְלָה; וְלֹא-קָרַב זֶה אֶל-זֶה, כָּל-הַלָּיְלָה

And [the pillar] came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and there was cloud and darkness, and it lit up the night (Exodus 14:20)

Thus, in a very real way, the Divine Presence had separated between light and darkness–just as it had once done so long ago, at Creation. (161)

The Exodus events, we’ve suggested, were a ratification of God’s role as Creator. Both Israel and Egypt had a choice to make: would they confront those events and take to heart that the world has a Creator, that all the powers of nature derive from a single Transcendent Force? Would they understand that this Creator cares about the welfare of His children and responds to their oppression? (165)

And so, in the very last act of the Exodus saga, each nation would have it the way they liked it. Those who acknowledged the existence of the Creator would have the benefits of creation, and those who denied the Creator would live in an uncreated world. (165)

If you prefer to deny a Creator; then live in a world without one! At the sea, Pharaoh and his minions inhabit an uncreated world, a world that is an expression of the primal chaos of pre-Creation. This world has no divisions. It is a world in which light is suffocated by darkness, water encompasses all, and both breathable air and habitable land are invaded by the menace of unrestricted chaotic water. (166)

PREFACE TO PART IV The Exodus that Might Have Been

Another way, perhaps, of asking the question: even if we were to accept that Plan A or B had originally been on the table, should we care that those plans never materialized? Was it not enough that the entire nation of Israel came to know YHVH? What, if anything, was lost when those plans failed to come to fruition? And if something terribly important was lost, is that loss permanent? Is there some sort of unrealized potential in the Exodus whose loss we should mourn, or perhaps seek to recapture? (169)

PART IV Joseph and the Phantom Exodus

20 All the King’s Horsemen

21 A Moment of Truth

22 The Triangle

We know that Jacob was clueless about what really happened to Joseph; his child just disappeared. But what is less obvious. R. Bin Nun suggests, is that the cluelessness was mutual: Joseph had no idea what really happened with Jacob that day, either.

…if you were Joseph, and you didn’t know that your father had been tricked–how might that affect your interpretation of what happened that day? (186)

Now, not knowing that Jacob was in fact deceived into thinking Joseph was dead, not knowing he was horrified and in mourning over the apparent loss of his beloved son–what false suspicion might Joseph entertain? (187)

[In the text, Joseph says hineini (הִנֵּנִי), “here I am,” when his father calls upon him to meet his brothers in Shechem (Genesis 37:13). In the book of Genesis, hineini has a chilling echo. It was how Abraham expressed his readiness to go on a journey when God, his Father in Heaven, called upon him to sacrifice his son. Here, Joseph uses the same phrase to express to his earthly father his readiness to go on a journey that may involve sacrifice. The use of hineini may be the Torah’s way of conveying to us that Joseph knew something of the dangers of the journey before he set out to meet his brothers. (187)

bor (בּוֹר), “pit” (Genesis 41:14). … In using the term bor, the text seems to blur the lines between the story happening now, and a story that happened many years ago. For indeed, there was a time when Joseph was in a pit. (189)

Last time around, Joseph was thrown into a pit, and now he is pulled out of one. Last time around, Joseph was stripped of clothes; now he’s getting new ones. (189)

וַיִּשְׁלַח פַּרְעֹה וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-יוֹסֵף

And Pharaoh sent for Joseph (Genesis 41:14)

[Pharaoh sends for Joseph. Previously, Jacob sent Joseph away.]

…what kind of person gives you a job in the family business, helps find you a wife, and gives you a name? That would be your father? (191)

You might say that Joseph has become Pharaoh’s adopted bechor–his adopted firstborn. (191)

23 The Land of Nearness

Our sheaves will bow to your sheaves. But with the passage of years, and with Joseph’s demonstrated kindness to them, a different meaning of the dream had become clear to the brothers: It is not over us that Joseph will rule, but over Egypt! The dream was talking about the future, it was talking about now… (198)

In asking them to all come to Goshen, Joseph has another agenda–one that he is perfectly up-front about: he wants to be close to them. (199)

geshu na (גְּשׁוּ-נָא), the first personal words Joseph said to his brothers, just a few lines previously (Genesis 45:4). Geshu na means “draw near, please.” Could it be that, in Joseph’s mind, the Land of Goshen is the Land of Nearness? (199)

24 The Fence of Thorns

…a state funeral in Canaan? Trying to honor that request could come at a real price for Joseph. When Joseph swore he would do it, Jacob understood what that meant. In a contest between competing fathers and their respective interests, Joseph had just chosen Jacob. (206)

What Jacob was really telling Joseph was something like: Look, Son, Egypt is nice, and Pharaoh is very gracious–but, at the end of the day, Egypt is not our place. Home is Canaan, the land God promised to us. That is where our family has an achuzah waiting for us, an ancestral holding. (207)

Will you publicly back our family’s allegiance to another homeland, to a larger national mission that doesn’t include Egypt as a place of residence? (207)

Ephraim and Manasseh represented Egypt as it used to be fore Joseph, before Jacob was back in Joseph’s life: a foreign land that had once enslaved a seemingly-orphaned Joseph, but had then taken care of him, just as he took care of it. All the while, Jacob was a world away. These two children were symbols of a seemingly unbridgeable gulf that had existed between Jacob and Joseph. (209)

Canaan was the cursed grandson of Noah, who was thrown out of the family. Ishmael was the son of Abraham, also thrown out of his family. (213)

Joseph was a child who thought himself dispossessed, too. But Joseph didn’t, in the end, turn around to attack. He clawed his way, somehow, back into the family. It took years, but he made it. (214)

25 A Conversation, Delayed

Joseph’s last phrase is chilling: Oh, how they shall return! This, indeed, will be the last time for generations that Joseph and Israel’s children will set foot outside Egypt. (222)

26 Honor Guard

The story of Jacob’s burial, in the end, is the story of two heroes. The first is Joseph, who risked everything to bury his father according to his wishes. He risked the loss of power, prestige–and perhaps most of all, his good standing in the eyes of Pharaoh. But the second hero, unlikely as it may seem, is Pharaoh himself. He resisted the urge to impose upon the venerated Jacob an exclusively Egyptian identity. He allowed Jacob to be who he was–Israelite, not Egyptian–and still he and the populace would cherish him; still he and Egypt would regard Jacob as royalty. They would accord him all the honor of a king, notwithstanding Jacob’s rather public decision that Canaan was his true home. The humility evinced by Pharaoh’s stance is nothing short of remarkable. (228)

27 Take the Long Way Home

The shortest route from Egypt to Hebron is to head northwest in more or less a straight line. If the burial party traveled to Canaan via Goren Ha’atad, it means they went well out of their way. Leaving Egypt, they would have had to swoop down to the south of Canaan, traverse the Sinai desert, swing up and around the Dead Sea, travel due north for the entire length of that sea, and then hook left to cross the Jordan River, probably somewhere near Jericho. That’s really taking the long way. (230)

…was there any other time in biblical history that a great procession of people took a similar roundabout route from Egypt to the Land of Canaan, crossing the Jordan River at the very end? (230)

So the route of the burial party anticipates the route of the Exodus. (230)

As you might recall from our survey of the Exodus story earlier in this book, child-care and animal-care logistics were part of the final negotiations between Moses and Pharaoh over the terms of Israel’s three-day holiday in the desert. (231)

28 Convergence

What is the essential thematic similarity between the Exodus and the burial of Jacob? How do these stories converge? (235)

In each, a grand procession was supposed to take place, to honor Father the way Father wanted to be honored. They only difference between the stories lies in which father we are talking about. In the Jacob story, we’re talking about a procession honoring an earthly father. In the Exodus story, the procession honors the Heavenly Father. (237)

All these resonances combine to create two whole sagas, each revolving around a similar axis: will key people display the strength of will and humility to allow Father to be honored, the way Father wants to be honored? (238)

So these children were the product, to some extent, of Israel’s alienation from the Land of Canaan and their particular covenantal destiny. Nevertheless, just as Jacob had done with Ephraim and Manasseh once before, the Father in Heaven would claim all these multitudes as His own. Whatever distance from Father Israel had experienced during their long years of exile, it would all be healed through this act of paternal acceptance. (246)

29 Divergence

What do you do when the child you thought was yours expresses an allegiance to another, deeper, Father? (249)

The great success of Joseph’s Pharaoh serves as a bitter indictment of Moses’s Pharaoh. (252)

Joseph has another father, more deeply father to him than I am. Who am I to stand in the way of Joseph according him all due honor? | In the end, Joseph’s Pharaoh didn’t just go along with the idea of the burial procession; he wanted Egypt to be part of it. (252)

It is intriguing, chilling even, that the word for the stubbornness evinced by Pharaoh, kaved (כָּבֵד), and the honor that God would take from Pharaoh’s pursuing armies, ikavdah (אִכָּבְדָה) are simply different forms of one Hebrew root, כבד (k-b-d). One would quite literally be turned into the other: God would “strengthen” Pharaoh’s heart, lending him courage to pursue his stubborn denial of the deeper Father, all the way to the very end. And then, God would play with Egypt as if with a toy, using the pursuing armies for His own ends instead of Pharaoh’s. (255)

30 The Unfinished Journey

Judaism has always insisted that the Torah wasn’t written to be merely a history book. Instead, the Torah is meant to be a guidebook. That is what the name Torah implies: it teaches. It guides. [The word Torah derives from lehorot (לְהוֹרוֹת), to lead, guide, or show the way (see Proverbs 1:8 and 3:1)–or perhaps even yarah (יָרָה), to guide the path of an arrow.] … The stories are relevant not just because they once happened. They are relevant because, like law, they can help shape us into our best possible selves. (259)


God, Moses and the Worst-Case Scenario

Rambam writes that if the prophecy the person delivers foretells some future act of compassion, mercy or beneficence on the part of God, and this event does not materialize, then the supposed prophet is surely a charlatan, because God would never renege on a promise of good tidings. If, however, the prophecy promises bad tidings–famine, destruction, or the like–then the failure of the prophecy to materialize cannot be taken as evidence that the prophet is a liar. This is so even if the prophecy of bad tidings was given unconditionally, because, Rambam argues, there is no such thing as an unconditional promise of bad tidings; the possibility of reversal always exists, even if the prophet doesn’t explicitly state this. (267)

Thus, the pattern seems confirmed. In the Bible, on rare occasions, God seems to be willing to reveal worst-case scenarios to humans when it’s necessary, in the Almighty’s judgment, to steel them for the rigors that may well face them–or their descendants–in the future. (274)


One Coat, Two Coats

Deuteronomy 21:16-17 … That every brother received one coat from Father, but Joseph received two, suggests that Jacob was treating Joseph as his bechor. (277)

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