First Aliya - 17 p'sukim (1:1-17)
[SDT] The opening words of the sedra/book of Shmot form the initial letters of V'chayav Adam Lilmod Sh'nayim Mikra V'echad Targum - And a person is obligated to review the Torah text twice and once in translation. Baal HaTurim extends this acronym to the next two words. His whole statement is: "One who learns the sedra2+1, singing it pleasantly, shall merit long life."
[SDT] The final letters of the opening words (sofei teivot) rearrange to spell the word T'HILIM. When the People of Israel are in trouble (a play-on- words of the name for Egypt - MITZRAYIM), they shall use T'hilim to help them focus their prayers to G-d, thereby meriting redemption.
[SDT] Our first exile was associated with the number 70, the number assigned the members of Yaakov's family who went down to Egypt. The exile following the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash lasted 70 years. The termination of the final exile will be associated with our dominance over, or recognition and respect by the 70 nations of the world.
A new king "who does not know Yosef" considers the Jewish people a threat and takes measures to enslave and demoralize them. (Interestingly, he is the first one to refer to us as a nation - "Am Bnei Yisrael", has a nice ring, no?) He even instructs the midwives to kill the baby boys at birth to prevent the development of his "potential enemies" (or to kill off the potential redeemer of the People). They refuse to do his bidding and save the lives of the boys.
[SDT] Va't'chayena et HaY'ladim ...and they gave life to the boys". The Midrash says that not only did the midwives defy Par'o by not killing the boys, they also were responsible for saving those that might have died during childbirth.
It is natural that some babies do not survive birth. The midwives were concerned that if they happened to deliver a stillborn, it should not appear as if they had carried out Par'o's orders. Their prayers were answered, and miraculously none of the babies died. Thus they are credited, not just with assisting the births, but also with giving life to some of the babies.
There is a parallel idea re the night of the Exodus. It is said that even the normal deaths that might be expected in a large population did not occur on the night of the Exodus, lest it detract from the miraculous nature of the Night.
[sdt] AND THEY EMBITTERED THEIR LIVES... The trup (Torah notes) on these words seem unduly happy for such sad words. The Vilna Gaon points out the "happy" result of the unusually harsh oppression of the Egyptians, namely, that G-d reacted to Egypt's excesses by cutting down our time in bondage to 210 years from the original prophecy of 400 years. This was done by counting from the birth of Yitzchak, rather than from Yaakov's descent into Egypt. This can be seen as the sweet Charoset on the Bitter Maror.
Similarly, when the first plan failed (having the midwives kill the males), Par'o orders: KOL HABEIN HAYILOD HA'Y'ORA TASHLI CHUHU... all males born shall be thrown into the river. This G'matriya of this phrase is 50+57+55+221+771 = 1154. This plan also failed. As Mishlei puts it (19:21) "Many are the thoughts in the heart of man, but G-d's plan prevails", VA'ATZAT HASHEM HI TAKUM = 566+26+16+546 = 1154.
(Ed. note: The amazing thing about the G'matriyas of R. Auerbach z"l is the exclusive use of the words of the text without the squeezing and stretching one usually finds in G'matriyas.)
Second Aliya - 15 p'sukim (1:18-2:10)
[About 3500 years later, another Egyptian ruler announced that he was willing to sacrifice a million of his people in order to destroy Israel and push the Jews into the sea. We must never underestimate the irrational extent to which our enemies will go in their attempt to destroy us.]
The People of Israel miraculously flourish under these adverse conditions.
[SDT] The Midrash matches the three redeemers of Israel with three different threats to the people, as follows: "And they embittered their lives with hard labor..." - Miriam the Prophetess was born to be instrumental in the redemption. The root of the name MIRIAM is the same as "bitter". "If it is a boy, you shall kill him." - corresponding to this threat to pregnancy (in Hebrew, HEIRAYON), Aharon was born (his name has a similar root). "All boys shall be thrown into the river" - Moshe ("for from the water he was drawn") is the antidote to that terrible decree.
Amram reunites with Yocheved and a baby boy is born. When he is no longer able to be hidden (some say that Moshe was three months premature; that the Egyptians knew when Yocheved was due; therefore she was able to hide him only for those three months), Yocheved prepares a waterproof basket and sets him on the river under the watchful eye of his sister.
Bat Par'o finds Moshe and sends Miriam to bring a wetnurse for the crying infant who apparently will not nurse from an Egyptian breast. Miriam brings Yocheved, Moshe's mother, who takes Moshe until he is weaned. From that point on, Moshe is raised in the royal palace by Bat Par'o (Batya). She names him Moshe.
[SDT] Egyptian astrologers read in the stars that Israel's redeemer was soon to be born. They recommended the systematic drowning of all baby boys (including non-Jews, since they were not sure of what nation this redeemer would come). When Moshe was floated on the Nile, the astrologers reported to Par'o that Israel's redeemer was indeed "disposed of". As a result of this not quite accurate reading of the stars, Par'o withdrew the decree to drown the boys.
[SDT] On the phrase: VAYEILECH ISH... And a man (from the house of Levi) went... the Baal HaTurim points out the only other occurrence of that phrase, in the book of Ruth: VAYEILECH ISH MI'BEIT LECHEM YEHUDA... In both cases, a redeemer of Israel results. In our case, Moshe. In Megilat Ruth, the progenitor of Mashiach ben David.
"And she called his name Moses, for from the water he was drawn." Does not quite make it in English. This is one of the proofs that the Torah was written in Hebrew.
3rd Aliya - 15 p'sukim (2:11-25)
[sdt] Yosef was identified by the Wine Steward as a NAAR IVRI, a Jewish lad. Moshe was identified by Yitro's daughters as ISH MITZRI, an Egyptian man. Yosef was privileged to have his remains buried in the Land of Israel. Moshe apparently did not have that same "z'chut".
[sdt] If one is looking for p'sukim that define the greatness of Moshe Rabeinu, one must include the pasuk that tells us that "he went out to his brothers". He was raised in the palace of Par'o. But the Jews were his brothers. That is leader material. There are other p'sukim that are part of the definition of Moshe Rabeinu, but this is certainly one of them.
[sdt] Moshe said ACHEIN NODA HADAVAR, thus the fact is known. The Sfat Emet sees in these words a powerful Mussar lesson for us. When two Jews would fight each other, when two Jews would inform on another to Par'o, then the fact is obvious - why do the Jewish People suffer exile more bitterly than other nations.
4th Aliya - 15 p'sukim (3:1-15)
[SDT] The Gemara in Brachot teaches us that it is from the Torah's reference to "a Land flowing with milk & honey" that we learn that milk (of a kosher animal) is permissible for us to drink. We might have thought that an animal's milk is akin to "limb from a living animal", which would render it a forbidden food. It is inconceivable, though, that the Torah would choose a non-kosher product in describing the holy land of Israel. Similarly, honey appears to be the product of the non-kosher bee. If so, it would not be permitted. But the bee processes the honey - it is not considered coming from the bee. It is permissible to us.
Moshe asks "why me?". G-d assures Moshe that He will be with him and that as proof of the divine nature of his mission, Moshe will be bringing the people back to "this spot" (Sinai) to "serve G-d" (and receive the Torah). Furthermore, Moshe is to "reintroduce" G-d to the People.
Moshe asks G-d what he should tell the People when he comes to them at G-d command. G-d's answer spans 9 p'sukim (3:14-22). G-d identifies Himself as E'H'YEH ASHER E'H'YEH (Alef-Hei-Yud-Hei is one of the 7 names of G-d that may not be erased.) G-d gives Moshe detailed instructions as to what to say to the people. He tells Moshe how the people will react and how Par'o will react. He tells him about the plagues and about the "friendly" reaction of the Egyptian people.
R. Auerbach z"l found a hidden numeric hint in this portion. In these 9 p'sukim are 169 words made up of 676 letters. 676 = 26 squared and 169 = 13 squared. The short answer to Moshe's question is 26-13, i.e. HaShem Echad.
5th Aliya - 24 p'sukim (3:16-4:17)
Moshe asks "on what basis will they believe me?" G-d gives Moshe three signs to perform for Par'o and the People. Moshe still questions G-d as to why him; G-d gets angry with Moshe for doubting His choice of leader. G-d informs Moshe that Aharon will assist in these matters. Moshe is instructed to have his special staff with him when he presents himself to the People and Par'o.
[SDT] Rashi quotes R. Yehoshua b. Korcha who explains that whenever the Torah uses the term "G-d's anger", we find the target of that anger is punished. In this case, the glory that would have been Moshe's alone, is partially transferred to Aharon. In the verse here, Aharon is identified as a Levi.
Moshe was originally to be the progenitor of the line of Kohanim. As a result of his continued hesitancy to accept his mission from G-d, the Kehuna was given to Aharon and his descendants and Moshe was to be a Levi. The verse in Divrei HaYamim makes this perfectly clear when it says: "And Moshe, the man of G-d, his sons (descendants) shall be called with the name of the Tribe of Levi."
[sdt] "Go back to Egypt for the people who are after your life have died. Rashi - they became poor and rendered ineffective. Maybe they actually died? The GR"A points to the word HA'M'VAKSHIM, not past tense. They are still around (Datan & Aviram).
[sdt] The Staff - HAMATEH. Baal HaTurim says that there is/was a scribal custom to put Torah crowns on the TET in the word THE STAFF. This, to say that Moshe was the ninth righteous individual who had the miraculous staff in hand. (Pirkei Avot tells us that the Staff was one of the items created in the instant at the border between the Six Days of Creation and the first Shabbat B'reishit.) The previous 8: Adam, Chanoch, No'ach, Shem, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yosef.
The Midrash says that Moshe had several names - Yered, Chever, Y'kutiel, Avigdor, Avi-Socho, Avi-Zanu'ach, Tovia, Heiman, Sh'maya.
The Midrash further tells us that of all his names he is only called Moshe - even by G-d - to give honor to the acts of kindness of the one who found him and saved him from the water - Bat Par'o
6th Aliya - 14 p'sukim (4:18-31)
[SDT] Yitro's words to Moshe, LEICH L'SHALOM (Go in peace) become the standard farewell message among Jews (and others) throughout the generations. The Gemara tells us to be careful not to say LEICH B'SHALOM, but rather to say LEICH L'SHALOM. The Gemara explains that when Yitro said LEICH L'SHALOM to Moshe, Moshe went and was successful. When David HaMelech said LEICH B'SHALOM to Avshalom, disaster befell him (Avshalom). LEICH B'SHALOM is used as a farewell to the deceased at a funeral.
G-d tells Moshe that it is safe for him to do so.
Moshe takes his wife and sons and returns to Egypt. G-d reminds Moshe about the signs he is to use before Par'o, that Par'o will not listen, and that he (Moshe) is to say to Par'o that if he does not release the People, G-d will kill his firstborn.
On the way, Tzipora circumcises her son. Commentaries explain that Moshe had neither circumcised his son Eliezer because of the danger in traveling when recently circumcised, nor did he postpone his return to Egypt, which would have been in defiance of G-d's command. It seems that he was in error in not having circumcised him, hence his life was in jeopardy until Tzipora performed the circumcision.
G-d tells Aharon to greet Moshe. Moshe tells Aharon all that has happened. They gather the elders and Aharon tells them what is to happen. The People believe what they hear and bow to G-d.
[sdt] Rashi says that the donkey that Moshe used to
bring his family to Mitzrayim was the same one that Avraham took to the Akeida and the one
that the Moshiach will ride upon.
7th Aliya - 24 p'sukim (5:1-6:1)
[SDT] Notice that the elders are not mentioned. Rashi tells us that one- by-one the elders "disappeared" (in fear of Par'o) as the entourage was going to Par'o, until only Moshe and Aharon were left.
So it was to be at Sinai. The elders were left at the foot of the mountain and Aharon and Moshe ascended. (Then Aharon stopped and Moshe proceeded to the top alone.)
Par'o refuses, questioning who this G-d of Israel is. He then increases the burden on the People (who obviously have too much free time because they ask for a 3-day release). The leaders of the People bear the brunt of the new edicts and complain to Par'o. Par'o blames Moshe; the People react with anger and disappointment. Moshe tells G-d that his efforts were counter-productive. G-d says that NOW you (Moshe) will see what G-d will do to Par'o...
[SDT] G-d explains to Moshe that this "failure" is a prelude to the grand Exodus. The Gemara says that "Ben David (the Moshiach) will not come until... the people will despair of Redemption".
(There are many variant ways that statement is made in the Gemara; this is one of them.) Here is the "proof" of the statement: G-d says NOW (and not before, when the People were still hopeful) the Geula is ready to come, because the people are so disappointed with the results of the latest visit with Par'o.
The final 3 p'sukim are reread for the Maftir.
23 p'sukim - Yeshayahu 27:6-28:13, 29:23-24
Note: Sephardim read as the Haftara for Sh'mot, the first chapter in Yirmiyahu, which is also the Haftara for Pinchas or Matot (the first of the 3 "sad" haftaras during the Three Weeks).