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Torah Commentary
Sh'mot (January 10, 2015)

Warren Klein, Interim Curator, Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica

I COULDN’T HELP but notice the important role that water plays in the first two chapters of the book of Exodus. Beginning with Pharaoh ordering the midwives to cast every newborn Israelite boy into the Nile (1:22), to baby Moses being found in the river by Pharaoh’s daughter (2:5-6), and lastly, Moses meeting his future wife at a well in the desert (2:16-17). In fact, water continues to play a role in the life of Moses and the Israelites from the departure from Egypt to wondering through the desert.

Often commentaries on this parashah focus on the early parts of Moses’ life, his psychological development to leading a people out of slavery. But this week, I wanted to focus on the repetitive imagery and the significance of water — particularly the flowing Nile being the force of both life and death and Moses meeting his wife Zippora at a well, both representing continuity and survival. What struck me as most interesting was the way in which water, something that most of us take for granted, played such a significant role. In my own life, water is something I often take for granted. It is always there when I need it: I turn on the faucet, I take a shower, I brush my teeth, I buy a bottle of water. But here, in the beginning books of Exodus, water is the saving force and foreshadowing behind the survival and the future of the Israelites.

Water factors into the narrative of these first two chapters and throughout the rest of the chapters of Exodus. It made me wonder, is all this mention of water (rivers, wells, life and death) foreshadowing to something greater? Possibly to the fact that the Israelites are to be affected profoundly by water soon, with the Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea in chapters 13 and 14? Or perhaps it is foreshadowing to Numbers Chapter 20, when Moses strikes the rock with his staff and water comes gushing out, quenching the thirst of the Israelites and their livestock, when the Israelites are in the desert and need water the most for survival?

Water can be seen as the fundamental source for life. Plants cannot grow on sunlight alone, and as humans, we cannot survive on just food. Water is the source of our freedom; the river transports Moses to survival just as the Red Sea transports the Israelites to their future as a free people.

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