The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Shemot and is found in Exodus 1:1-6:1. As we start the book of Exodus, the Torah changes from being the story of a family to the story of a people. The Egyptian king fears and hates the Israelites and enslaves them. When this oppression fails to curb their growth, Pharaoh orders the midwives to kill all the newborn boys. The midwives refuse, so Pharaoh issues an order that every baby boy born to Hebrew parents is to be drowned in the Nile. When Moses’ mother can hide her baby son no longer, she places him in a basket in the river, hoping he might survive. Moses is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, who recognizes that he is a Hebrew child but adopts him as her son and raises him in the palace. After Moses has grown up, he goes out to see the state of his people. He comes upon an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave and kills the Egyptian. He learns that his act is known, so he flees to Midian where he marries Zipporah and becomes a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks. One day, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells him that he is being sent to Pharaoh to free the Israelites. Moses objects, insisting that he is neither worthy nor capable but God reassures him and gives him signs to show that he is God’s messenger. Moses goes to Egypt with his wife and sons. God sends his brother Aaron to meet him and together they assemble the Israelite elders and tell them that God has promised to end their servitude. Moses and Aaron then go to Pharaoh and ask that the Israelites be allowed to go into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh not only refuses but retaliates by increasing the severity of the Israelites’ oppression. The people blame Moses and Aaron for their punishment, but God tells Moses, “You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh.”
In this parasha, we see that the favorable conditions of Egypt have changed dramatically and the Israelite people are no longer welcome or supported like they were when Joseph was alive. It was easy in past generations for the people to praise God and to see how God had brought them to Egypt, when life was good there. However, when bad times took over, it was harder for the people to see God working in their lives. Although this layer of doubt and discouragement primarily sets the backdrop for the miracles that God performs in succeeding chapters, it is likewise a message for us. Often we travel through life believing that a certain decision or choice is right, it is where we need to be, and it is where God has led us. But when events change and no longer look favorable it is easy to blame ourselves, others, or ultimately, God, for the change. We may even doubt whether the original decision was good. What we need to remember from the Exodus story is that the God who brought us into Egypt, is also the God that was there in Egypt through our prosperity and pain, and is ultimately the God that brought us out of Egypt to a better life. We can trust God to be with us in both prosperous and painful times, and that good will ultimately prevail.