Shemot -- Exodus 1:1-6:1

2009_04_L1Giordano Bruno, the Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, and scientist who was eventually burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church's Inquisition for asserting that the universe is infinite and that Earth is not its center, observed:

"There is one simple Divinity found in all things, one fecund Nature, preserving mother of the universe insofar as she diversely communicates herself, casts her light into diverse subjects, and assumes various names."

Names define the Book of Exodus. As the children of Israel are growing numerous and prospering generations after Joseph’s rise to grand vizier of Egypt, it is their names that remain.

This prosperity and integration is perceived as a threat to their Egyptian overlords. In the process of Pharaoh’s enslaving the Israelites, he also orders the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah to kill all male babies by throwing them into the Nile.

If it was not for the righteous indignation of the midwives, Moses would never have come onto the scene. This child born to Yocheved, daughter of Levi, and her husband Amram, is placed in a basket along the Nile River. It is Pharaoh’s daughter who discovers the baby hidden in the basket while bathing in the Nile and names him Moses.

Fast forward to Moses fleeing the palace, finding his way to Midian, where he rescues Tzipporah, daughter of local chieftain and priest of Midian, Jethro. He later marries Tzipporah and becomes a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Moses continues to wander in search of the truth, finally encountering the divine in the renowned theophany of the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai.

As Moses and Aaron challenge Pharaoh’s recalcitrance to free the Israelites, the people hold fast to the hope that redemption is at hand. When we know the depth of our own name’s message, exodus is all the more apparent.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "turned, to a transparent fire," by Christopher Orev Reiger, 2009 -- this painting was created as an oblique reference to theophany and pantheism (of the sort Giordano Bruno and some Kabbalists embrace)