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Parashat Yitro

General Overview: In this week’s reading of Yitro, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, arrives at the Israelite encampment and advises them to set up a smoothly functioning legal system. The Israelites experience the divine revelation at Mount Sinai, and hear the Ten Commandments.

First Aliyah: Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, having heard about all the miracles that G‑d wrought for the Israelites, came from his native Midian to the Israelite desert encampment—bringing along Moses’ wife and two sons. Moses warmly greeted his father-in-law, and recounted to him all that G‑d had done to the Egyptians. Jethro thanked G‑d for all the miracles, and offered thanksgiving sacrifices.

Second Aliyah: Jethro observed Moses adjudicating all the disputes that arose among the Israelites. Jethro suggested to Moses that such a system, one that placed such a great burden on Moses’ shoulders, would eventually wear him down. Instead, he advised Moses to appoint a hierarchy of wise and righteous judges, and to delegate his responsibilities—with Moses presiding only over the most difficult cases. This would also free up Moses’ time to teach the Israelites the teachings of the Torah that he hears from G‑d.

Third Aliyah: Moses accepted his father-in-law’s suggestion, and set up a hierarchical judicial system. Jethro then returned to his native land.

Fourth Aliyah: Six weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrived in the Sinai Desert and encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses ascended the mountain, where G‑d gave him a message to transmit to the people. Included in this message was G‑d’s designation of the Israelites as His “treasure out of all peoples” and a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”

Fifth Aliyah: Moses conveyed to the people G‑d’s words, and the people in turn accepted upon themselves to do all that G‑d commands of them. G‑d then instructed Moses to have the Israelites prepare themselves, because in three days’ time He would reveal Himself atop the mountain to the entire nation. The Israelites were commanded to sanctify themselves, and were warned not to approach the mountain until after the divine revelation. On the morning of the third day, thunder, lightning, a thick cloud and the piercing sound of a shofar emanated from the mountaintop. Mt. Sinai was smoking and trembling, while the sound of the shofar grew steadily louder. Moses escorted the shuddering and frightened nation to the mountain, and settled them at its base.

Sixth Aliyah: G‑d descended upon the mountain, and summoned Moses to its summit. G‑d instructed Moses to again warn the Israelites about the tragic end that awaited anyone who approaches the mountain itself. Only Moses and his brother Aaron were allowed on the mountain during this time. G‑d then spoke the Ten Commandments to the Israelite nation. They are: 1) Belief in G‑d. 2) Not to worship idols. 3) Not to take G‑d’s name in vain. 4) To keep the Shabbat. 5) To honor parents. 6) Not to murder. 7) Not to commit adultery. 8) Not to steal. 9) Not to bear false witness. 10) Not to covet another’s property.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites were left traumatized by the overwhelming revelation, the awesome “light and sound” show. They turned to Moses and asked that from then on he should serve as an intermediary between them and G‑d: Moses should hear G‑d’s word and transmit it to the people. Moses agreed. The reading concludes with a prohibition against creating idolatrous graven images—considering that no image was seen when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai—and the commandment to erect a sacrificial altar. The altar stones should not be hewn with iron implements, nor should there be steps leading to the top of the altar.

Parashat Beshalach- Shabbat Shira

General Overview: In this week's reading, Beshalach, Pharaoh pursues the Israelites into the desert. The Red Sea splits, the Israelites cross the sea while the Egyptian army is drowned. Moses and the Israelites sing a special song thanking G‑d for this miracle. The Israelites complain about a lack of food and drink. G‑d sends Manna and quail for them to eat, and miraculously produces water from a rock. Amalek attacks the Israelites and is soundly defeated.

First Aliyah: After Pharaoh sent the Israelites from his land, G‑d did not allow them to take the most direct route to the Promised Land, fearing that any confrontation would then frighten the Israelites, causing them to return to Egypt via this short route. Instead G‑d had them take the circuitous desert route, leading them with a pillar of cloud during daytime and a pillar of fire after dark. G‑d then commanded the Israelites to backtrack and encamp along the Red Sea. They would thus appear to be hopelessly lost, which would prompt the Egyptians to pursue them. The Israelites followed this instruction, and, indeed, the Egyptians armies set out after the "lost" and cornered Israelites.

Second Aliyah: The Israelites noticed the approaching Egyptian armies, and they panicked. "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?" they screamed at Moses. "Don't be afraid," Moses reassured. "Stand firm and see G‑d's salvation that He will wreak for you today . . . G‑d will fight for you, and you shall remain silent."

Third Aliyah: G‑d instructed Moses, "Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel!" G‑d told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea and divide it, and the Israelites should then proceed through the split sea. "And the Egyptians shall know that I am G‑d, when I will be glorified through Pharaoh, through his chariots, and through his horsemen." Meanwhile, the pillar of cloud that normally led the Israelites moved to their rear, insulating the Israelites and plunging the Egyptian camp into darkness. Moses stretched out his staff and the sea divided, and the Israelites walked on the seabed, on dry land. The Egyptians quickly pursued them into the sea.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses stretched his hand over the sea and the waters that had been standing like walls now fell upon the Egyptians, drowning them all. Moses then led the Israelites in song, praising G‑d for the wondrous miracle that had transpired. Miriam, Moses' sister, then led the women in song and dance, with musical accompaniment. The Israelites traveled on in the desert, journeying three days without encountering water. They then arrived in Marah, where there was water—but bitter water. Moses miraculously sweetened the water.

Fifth Aliyah: One month after the Exodus, the Israelites' provisions ran dry. They complained to Moses, mentioning nostalgically "the fleshpots of Egypt," that they left behind. G‑d responded that He will rain down bread from heaven in the mornings, and meat will be provided every night.

Sixth Aliyah: The meat, in the form of quails, appeared in the evening and covered the Israelite camp. In the morning, bread – called manna – fell from heaven, encased between layers of morning dew. Moses told the Israelites to gather one omer (a biblical measure) of manna per household member every day. Miraculously, no matter how much manna one picked, he arrived home with precisely one omer per head. Furthermore, Moses commanded the Israelites not to leave any manna over from one day to the next. Some disregarded this instruction, and next morning found their manna worm-infested. On Friday everyone picked two omers. Moses explained that the second portion was to be prepared and set aside for Shabbat—when no manna would fall. Again some disregarded Moses' directive, and went out pick manna on Shabbat. G‑d was angered by this disobedience. G‑d instructed Moses to take a jar of manna and place it in the (yet to be constructed) Tabernacle, as a testament for all future generations.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites journeyed further and as they arrived in Rephidim their drinking water ran out again. The Israelites complained, and G‑d instructed Moses to smite a certain rock with his staff. Water came pouring out of the rock and the people drank. The Amalekites then came and attacked the Israelites. Moses directed his student Joshua to assemble an army and battle Amalek. Joshua did so, and the Israelites were victorious—aided by Moses' prayer atop a mountain. G‑d told Moses to record in the Book that He will "surely erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens."

Parashat Bo

General Overview: In this week’s reading, Bo, the last three plagues—Locust, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn—are inflicted upon the Egyptians. Moses commands the Israelites concerning the Paschal offering and the laws of the Seder. After the final plague, Pharaoh unconditionally releases the Israelites from his land.

First Aliyah: Plague Eight: At G‑d’s behest, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and delivered a warning: “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, so that they can worship Me!” They informed Pharaoh that if he does not allow the Israelites to go, Egypt will be attacked by a plague of locusts. After Moses and Aaron left, Pharaoh’s servants begged him to allow the Israelites to leave. “Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?” they argued. Pharaoh called back Moses and Aaron, and offered to allow the Israelites to leave—provided that they leave behind their children as security. Moses and Aaron refused the offer, and Pharaoh stubbornly refused to allow the Israelites to go.

Second Aliyah: Moses stretched out his hands, and swarms of locusts swept down on Egypt. They consumed absolutely every blade of grass, and all the crops. Pharaoh beseeched Moses to pray to G‑d for the removal of the locusts, promising to then release the Israelites. Moses prayed, and no sooner had a wind carried the locusts back to the Red Sea than Pharaoh changed his mind yet again. Plague Nine: A frightful darkness descended upon Egypt. For days, the entire nation was incapacitated by the debilitating pitch darkness. “But for all the children of Israel, there was light in their dwellings.”

Third Aliyah: Pharaoh summoned Moses again, offering to release the Israelites if they leave behind their cattle. Moses refused the condition. Pharaoh sent Moses away, warning him to never appear in his presence again, “for on the day that you see my face, you shall die!” Moses agreed, but not before he delivered a final message that G‑d relayed to him at that moment. G‑d told Moses that he would visit one more plague upon Egypt, after which Pharaoh will actually drive the Israelites from his land. Parenthetically, at that time G‑d also instructed Moses to ask the Israelites to borrow from their Egyptian neighbors jewels, silver and gold. The Israelites complied, and the Egyptians readily lent out their valuables.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses delivered G‑d’s warning to Pharaoh: “At midnight, I will go out in the midst of Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave woman . . .” G‑d then gave the Israelites their first mitzvah, that of determining the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh) each month and establishing a lunar calendar. G‑d also told Moses to instruct the Israelites to designate a lamb for the Paschal offering. The Israelites were to sacrifice this lamb and consume it, together with matzah and bitter herbs, on the eve of the fifteenth of Nissan. The blood of the lamb was to be smeared on the lintels and doorposts of the Israelite residences, and all inside those homes would be spared when G‑d descended to smite the Egyptian firstborn. G‑d also instructed that for all future generations this day would signal the beginning of the seven-day holiday of Passover, during which no leaven may be eaten or possessed.

Fifth Aliyah: Moses gathered the Israelite elders and conveyed to them G‑d’s instructions.

Sixth Aliyah: Plague Ten: At the stroke of midnight, G‑d slew all the Egyptian firstborn. No Egyptian home was spared, and Egypt erupted in a great outcry. Pharaoh awoke and raced to Moses, and begged him to take the Israelites and leave. The Egyptians pressured the Israelites to leave as soon as possible, and the Israelites complied. Equipped with all the valuables they had borrowed from the Egyptians, and provisions for the way—dough that was baked before having time to rise—the Israelites left Egypt at midday of the fifteenth of Nissan. This section concludes with some more rules that pertain to the Paschal offering.

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d gave the Israelites several mitzvot: 1) All male Israelite firstborn were henceforth sanctified to G‑d. 2) Eat matzah on Passover. 3) Recount the story of the Exodus at the Passover Seder. 4) Bring all male firstborn of kosher animals as sacrifices. 5) Redeem all male firstborn donkeys for a sheep—which is given to a kohen (priest). 6) Don tefillin on the head and arm.

Parashat Vaera

General Overview: In this week's reading, Vaera, Pharaoh refuses to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt, even after Aaron exhibits miraculous powers, transforming his staff into a serpent. The first seven plagues strike Egypt: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Beasts, Pestilence, Boils, and Fiery Hail.

First Aliyah: This week's portion opens with G‑d's response to Moses (continuation from the end of last week's reading). G‑d told Moses that He revealed Himself to the Patriarchs and established with them a covenant to give them the land of Canaan. And now the time has arrived to fulfill His promises. G‑d told Moses to tell the Israelites that He has heard their cries, and He will now deliver them from Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. Moses relayed the message, but their unbearable workload prevented them from accepting his words. G‑d then told Moses to instruct Pharaoh to send the Israelites from his land. Moses protested: "If the children of Israel did not listen to me, how then will Pharaoh listen to me? I have a speech impediment?" (G‑d's answer below in the Third Aliyah.)

Second Aliyah: The Torah takes a brief interlude and traces the lineage of Moses and Aaron, listing their family trees.

Third Aliyah: G‑d tells Moses to go speak to Pharaoh, and Aaron should serve as his spokesman. G‑d informed him that He will harden Pharaoh's heart and he will refuse to release the Israelites. At that point G‑d will "multiply His wonders" in Egypt, until the Egyptians will recognize that G‑d is the L-rd.

Fourth Aliyah: Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh. As per G‑d's instructions, Aaron cast his staff on the ground, and it turned into a serpent. When Pharaoh's magicians did the same with their staffs, Aaron's staff swallowed theirs. Pharaoh remained unimpressed—and so the plagues commenced. Plague One: Aaron smote the Nile with his staff. The river and all the waters in Egypt turned into blood, and all the fish perished. Plague Two: Aaron stretched his staff upon the Nile and droves of frogs emerged. They covered the land, entered all the houses, even the ovens and kneading bowls. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and begged them to pray to G‑d to remove the plague, after which he would release the Israelites.

Fifth Aliyah: Moses prayed to G‑d, and the frogs all died. Egypt reeked from the odor of rotting frogs, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise. Plague Three: Aaron smote the earth with his staff, and swarms of lice attacked Egypt, covering man and beast. Even Pharaoh's magicians were amazed by this, and informed Pharaoh that this is the "finger of G‑d." Plague Four: G‑d dispatched Moses to warn Pharaoh that his land will be infested by a mixture of noxious animals. Only the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived, would be spared.

Sixth Aliyah: The mixture of wild beasts descended upon Egypt, destroying the entire land with the exception of Goshen. Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and offered to allow the Israelites freedom to serve G‑d whilst still in Egypt. When Moses rejected this offer, Pharaoh capitulated and offered to release the Israelites if only the plague came to an end. Moses prayed, the plague ended, and Pharaoh reneged on his promise again. Plague Five: all the Egyptians' cattle suddenly died; none of the Israelites' animals were affected. Plague Six: Moses and Aaron took handfuls of furnace soot and threw them heavenward. The soot descended, covered the entire Egypt, infecting all its inhabitants with painful boils. G‑d sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: Just as G‑d wiped out all the Egyptian cattle, He could have easily slain Pharaoh and all his people too. "But, for this [reason] I have allowed you to survive, in order to show you My strength and to declare My name all over the earth!"

Seventh Aliyah: Plague Seven: Moses warned Pharaoh that a catastrophic hail would descend upon the land. Man or beast that would remain in the field would be killed by the hailstones. Moses stretched his rod toward heaven and hail poured down—with fire blazing inside the icy hail. Aside for damage to humans and animal, the hail destroyed all vegetation and trees. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron. "I have sinned this time," he declared. "The Lord is the righteous One, and I and my people are the guilty ones. Entreat the Lord, and let it be enough of God's thunder and hail, and I will let you go..." Moses prayed. The hail stopped. And Pharaoh changed his mind yet again.

Wed, February 19 2020 24 Shevat 5780