By Donald Ray Schwartz
In this week’s parshah, which closes the Book of Exodus, we are gifted with the Torah. Our ancestors pledged to do and to hearken. That is our obligation as well.
The Book of Exodus opens with the descent into Egypt, where our ancestors become enslaved. Water imagery weaves through the arc of the story. Baby Moshe is rescued in a tevah, the same Hebrew word used to mean Noah’s ark. Both men save the world through Hashem’s providence.
The story moves swiftly in the written text. Lower fall the Israelites until Moshe perceives the burning bush. History repeats itself when Moshe meets his wife Zipporah at a well, just as Abraham’s servant encountered Rebecca at a well and as Jacob met Rachel at a well. The actions of the ancestors are repeated by their descendants.
With his new family, Moshe adopts the profession of a shepherd, a foreshadowing of his leadership of the Israelites. At the bush, Hashem orders Moshe to return to Egypt. He is to speak for Hashem to let the people come out of slavery.
In the first plague, the waters turning to blood continues the water imagery. After the 10 plagues, the waters divide for rescue from slavery to freedom.
With some blips along the journey in the desert, such as the golden calf, the arc of the story reaches higher to its apex — matan haTorah, the giving of the Torah, which in all views keeps our relationship with the Lord eternal.
Moshe assembles the people to convey the 613 mitzvot. This occurs at the ultimate height, at Mount Sinai, where they receive the design of the Mishkan, the holy Tabernacle. Their descendants use this pattern first at Shiloh, then in Jerusalem for both holy Temples. In Midrash and Zohar, the Temples reflect the design of the heavenly court.
The story arc of Exodus reflects that of the five books in text and the oral Torah.
Near the end of Exodus these words appear: “The presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.”
Beginning with the descent, the middle escape and journeys, Exodus’ story arc ends at the highest of levels.
May we continue to do and to hearken as our ancestors pledged in the holiest of places.
Donald Ray Schwartz is a well-published author. He lives in Mt. Washington with his wife, Ann, and they are members of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah, where he teaches classes for adults. He is an associate professor of speech, theatre and mass communication at the Community College of Baltimore County (retired).