Shemot (Exodus)

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The Book of Exodus or Sefer Shemot is the second book of the Tanach and the second of five books of the Torah written by Moses. The name Shemot literally means “names” and is taken from the first word of the Hebrew text. When the Torah was translated into the Greek Septuagint, the name Exodus – meaning departure – was given to the book since that is the overarching theme of the text. The Greek title has continued to be used in all subsequent Latin and English versions of the Bible as well as in many other Bibles of different languages.

Sefer Shemot tells how Moses leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness to Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai God, through Moses, gives the Children of Israel their laws and enters into a covenant with them. This covenant includes giving them the land of Canaan as promised to Abraham. The book ends with the construction of the Tabernacle.

The central theme of Sefer Shemot is the Children of Israel’s relationship with God. Sefer Shemot also shows the importance of genealogy in the Tanach. Israel is elected for salvation because it is the firstborn son of God, descended though Shem and Abraham to the chosen line of Jacob.

Sefer Shemot can be broken down into the following sections:
Call of Moses (Chapters 1-4)
Preparation (Chapters 5-6)
Plagues (Chapters 7-11)
The Departure (Chapters 12-13)
Pharaoh and His Army (Chapter 13-15)
March to Sinai (Chapters 15-18)
Call to the Children of Israel (Chapters 19-20)
Law and the Covenant (Chapters 21-24)
Instructions for the Tabernacle and the Priests (Chapters 25-31)
The Golden Calf (Chapters 32-34)
Tabernacle and the Priests (Chapters 35-40)

Call of Moses

The Children of Israel are living in Egypt as an oppressed people living as slave labor imposed on them by Pharaoh. Yocheved gives birth to a son at a time when Pharaoh commanded that all new-born sons of the Children of Israel were to be drowned upon birth. Yocheved and her daughter Miriam hide the child in an ark where the Pharaoh’s daughter finds him. She names him Moses and raises him as her own.

Moses grows up knowing that he is in fact part of the Children of Israel and he sympathizes with their plight. When he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a slave, Moses killed the taskmaster and was forced to flee from Egypt to Midian. In Midian he becomes a shepherd for Jethro. Moses later marries Jethro’s daughter Tzipporah.

One day when Moses is on his own with his sheep he comes across a burning bush on Mount Horeb. God appears to Moses through this miraculous burning bush that is not consumed by the fire. God reveals His Name to Moses and orders Moses to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh and demand the release of the Children of Israel. God appoints Aaron, Moses’ brother to assist him in his task.

Moses returns to Egypt to liberate his kindred.


Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh to request that the Children of Israel be permitted to leave. Pharaoh refuses their request and oppresses the people even more. Moses complains to God. God announces that He will display His power and liberate the Children of Israel.

The genealogy of Moses is written into the narrative.


Since Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he will not allow the Children of Israel to leave, God brings about ten plagues over Pharaoh and his land:
1. Changing of the water to blood
2. Frogs
3. Lice
4. Swarm of wild beasts
5. Epidemic
6. Boils
7. Hail
8. Locusts
9. Darkness

Due to Pharaoh’s continuing refusal to permit the Children of Israel to depart, God tells Moses that he will bring about one more plague upon Egypt. God instructs Moses to tell the people to slaughter a lamb for each household and put its blood upon the doorposts. The people are to sit up and eat the lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread as a feast on the 14th day of the first month. The first-born of all Egypt is killed that night and Pharaoh dismisses the Children of Israel.

The Departure

The numbers of those who depart are 600,000 men plus women, children, and a mixed multitude. They depart with the gifts from the Egyptians, their own possessions, and the body of Joseph.

They first go to Ramases and then to Sukkot. The Children of Israel are given further instructions regarding the Passover festival.

Pharaoh and His Army

Pharaoh’s heart was again hardened. He, with his chariots and horsemen pursued the Children of Israel who had reached the shores of the Yom Suf where they had been lead by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night.

Moses, following a command from God, stretched his staff over the water and the waters parted. The Children of Israel crossed to the opposite shore on dry land while being pursued by Pharaoh and his army. Upon reaching the opposite shore, God caused the waters to settle – engulfing Pharaoh and his entire army.

Moses and the Children of Israel sang a song of praise to God after the defeat of Pharaoh.

March to Sinai

The Children of Israel journeyed into the desert of Shur to Mara. The people complained of a lack of water but their thirst was satisfied by God. They then journeyed to Elim.

In the desert of Sin, the people complain of a lack of food – whereupon God sent them quails. From this time forward, God sent a daily shower of manna.

Upon arrival at Rephidim, the people again complained about the lack of water. God again gives them water from a rock.

Amalek attacked the Children of Israel but is vanquished by Joshua. God commanded an eternal war against Amalek and told the Children of Israel to never forget what Amalek did to them.

Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, visits Moses bringing along Moses’ wife Tzipporah and their two children. On Jethro’s advice Moses appointed subordinate judges for the people.

Call to the Children of Israel

In the third month, the Children of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai where they encamp at the foot of the mountain. God announced through Moses that by His power He has liberated them.

God stated that He will make the Children of Israel His people and will make them a nation of priests and a holy people. The Children of Israel accepted this call from God.

Moses instructed the people to sanctify themselves in preparation for the giving of the Covenant. God revealed Himself at Mount Sinai and pronounced the Ten Statements (Aseret HaDiberot) and the commands regarding the altar.

Law and the Covenant

The Ten Statements (Aseret HaDiberot) declared the will of God regarding man’s attitude toward God and all His creatures. The civil law was taught including those laws regarding injuries caused to a fellow man and charity.

God stated that the land of Canaan was to be rewarded to the Children of Israel as a reward of obedience and as a warning to the pagan inhabitants. God entered into a Covenant with the Children of Israel.

Moses is called up into the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the Ten Statements (Aseret HaDiberot) and further laws and rulings.

Instructions for the Tabernacle and the Priests

God ordered that the Children of Israel to build and erect the Tabernacle (Mishkan) as a place for God to “dwell” among the Children of Israel. They are also commanded to make all the holy objects that will be part of the services performed daily in the Tabernacle (Mishkan).

God also commanded the Children of Israel to make garments for the priests who would serve in the Tabernacle (Mishkan). Moses is told how to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests to God.

Further instructions are given for the sacrifices that were given in the Tabernacle (Mishkan). Instructions for further holy objects for the Tabernacle (Mishkan) were given.

Directions for the yearly tax of half a shekel, preparations of the holy anointing oil and incense, and the observance of Shabbat were also given.

The Golden Calf

While Moses was on Mount Sinai, the people became concerned that he may not come back to them. The people convinced Aaron to make a golden calf to be used as an intermediary between them and God.

God informed Moses of this sin and threatened to abandon the Children of Israel. Moses interceded for the people and begged for God not to abandon them. When he returned to the foot of the mountain and saw the idol worship, he broke the tablets containing the Aseret Hadiberot (Ten Commandments) that had been written by God. Moses then pronounced judgment upon Aaron and the people.

Moses ascended the mountain to implore God to forgive the people and not leave them abandoned in the wilderness. Moses’ plea prevailed. God commanded Moses to make a new set of tablets and write the Aseret Hadiberot (Ten Commandments).

God then reveals Himself to Moses and assured Moses that He will lead the Children of Israel to the Promised Land. God then gave Moses the laws regarding intermarriage, idolatry, and the three pilgrimage festivals.

Moses returned to the Children of Israel with the new tablets and gave them all the laws given to him by God.

Tabernacle and the Priests

Moses gathered the people together and instructed them regarding Shabbat and also requested gifts for the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The entire people responded willingly and quickly offering gifts, constructing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the holy objects, and making the garments for Aaron and his sons.

Sefer Shemot (שמות) is divided into the following Parshiot

Shemot (1:1-6:1) – (Names):
Haftorah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13;29:22-23 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 1:1-2:3 (Sephardi)
1:1-7: The generation passes 4:1-9: Moses doubts the people’s faith
1:8-14: Pharaoh’s plot 4:10-13 Moses’ desperate plea and G-d’s response
1:15-22: Infanticide 4:14-17: Moses’ objections are overridden
2:1-10: The birth of Moses 4:18-23: Moses embarks for Egypt
2:11-15: Moses identifies with his people 4:24-31: Zipporah circumcises her son
2:16-22: Moses marries 5:1-5: Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh
2:23-25: The time of salvation has arrived 5:6-11: Pharaoh increases the burden on the people
3:1-10: The burning bush 5:12-19: Egyptian taskmasters and Jewish foremen
3:11-13: Moses’ doubts and G-d’s reassurance 5:20-23: The Jews complain to Moses and Aaron; Moses complains to G-d
3:14-17: The Names of G-d 6:1: Portent for the future
3:18-22: The request to the Egyptians


Va’eira (6:2-9:35) – (And I Appeared):
Haftorah: Ezekiel 28:25-29:21 (Ashkenazi); Ezekiel 28:25-29:21 (Sephardi)
6:2-5: G-d reassures Moses 7:1-13: The redemption begins
6:6-12: The four expressions of redemption and Moses’ response 7:14-9:35: The Ten Plagues: Blood, Frogs, Lice, Swarm of wild beasts, Epidemic, Boils, Hail
6:13-30: The mission and its bearers and Moses’ second response


Bo (10:1-13:16) – (Come):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 46:13-28 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 46:13-28 (Sephardi)
10:1-29: The Ten Plagues: Locusts, Darkness, Pharoah’s offerings and final intransigence 12:30-36: Pharaoh’s surrender
11:1-10: Pharoah’s offerings and final intransigence, Warning of the Plague of the Firstborn 12:37-39: The Exodus
12:1-2: Rosh Chodesh 12:40-42: The duration of the Egyptian exile
12:3-11: The Pesach offering 12:43-51: Additional laws of the Pesach offering
12:12-13: G-d Himself will carry out the plague 13:1-2: Sanctification of the firstborn
12:14-20: The Pesach festival 13:3-10: Remember the Exodus
12:21-28: The Pesach offering 13:11-15: The firstborn
12:29: The tenth plague: Death of the Firstborn 13:16: Tefillin


Beshalach (13:17-17:15) – (When [he] Let Go):
Haftorah: Judges 4:4-5:31 (Ashkenazi); Judges 5:1-31 (Sephardi)
13:17-14:2: The route to Eretz Yisrael 15:23-16:3: Marah: Israel tests G-d
14:3-8: Pharaoh’s change of heart 16:4-12: Manna: Food from heaven
14:9-12: Israel panics 16:13-16: Quail
14:13-20: G-d’s assurance 16:17-21: Equal portions
14:21-25: The sea splits 16:22-36: Preparation for the Sabbath
14:26-29: The water crashes down upon Egypt 17:1-7: Test and contention: water from a rock
14:30-31: The salvation 17:8-13: Amalek
15:1-19: The Song by the Sea 17:14-16: The eternal struggle against Amalek
15:20-22: The women sing


Yitro (18:1-20:23) – (Jethro):
Haftorah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6 (Ashkenazi); Isaiah 6:1-13 (Sephardi)
18:1-8: Jethro’s arrival 19:3-9: G-d’s proposal
18:9-16: Jethro rejoices 19:10-15: Preparing for the Torah
18:17-20: Jethro’s advice 19:16-25: The day of the Revelation
18:21-26: The list of requirements for leadership 20:1-14: The Ten Statements
18:27: Jethro leaves 20:15-23: Command to build an altar and bring sacrifices
19:1-2: Arrival at Sinai


Mishpatim (21:1-24:18) – (Laws):
Haftorah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26 (Ashkenazi); Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26 (Sephardi)
21:1-3: The civil law 22:13-14: A borrower
21:4-6: Jewish bondsmen 22:15-19: Seduction
21:7-11: “Sale” of a daughter 22:20-23: Sensitivity to the helpless and abandoned
21:12-19: Murder and manslaughter 22:24-26: The commandment to extend free loans
21:20-21: Killing of a slave 22:27: Do not curse a leader
21:22-27: Penalty for bodily injury 22:28-30: Fullness offering and Priestly heave offering
21:28-32: Death caused by an animal 23:1-4: Integrity of the judicial process
21:33-34: A pit 23:5-9: Fair dispensation of justice
21:35-36: An animal damaging property 23:10-13: The Sabbaths of the land and the week
21:37: Stealing livestock 23:14-19: The Three Pilgrimage Festivals
22:1-3: Self-defense: payment for theft 23:20-33: Promise of swift passage to, and conquest of, the land
22:4-6: Damages caused by livestock 24:1-8: Moses delivers the words of G-d; people accept the mitzvot
22:7-12: Laws of custodians 24:9-18: Prophecy at the mountain


Terumah (25:1-27:19) – (Gifts, Offerings):
Haftorah: I Kings 5:26-6:13 (Ashkenazi); I Kings 5:26-6:13 (Sephardi)
25:1-9: The Tabernacle 26:1-14: Covers of the Tabernacle
25:10-16: The Ark 26:15-30: Walls of the Tabernacle
25:17-22: The Cover 26:31-37: The Partition
25:23-30: The Table 27:1-8: The Altar
25:31-40: The Menorah 27:9-19: The Courtyard


Tetzaveh (27:20-30:10) – (You Command):
Haftorah: Ezekiel 43:10-27 (Ashkenazi); Ezekiel 43:10-27 (Sephardi)
27:20-21: The Oil 28:40-43: Vestments of the ordinary Kohanim
28:1-3: The Kohanim and their Vestments 29:1-3: Inauguration ritual
28:4-5: The Vestments 29:4-9: Immersing vestments, anointment
28:6-12: The Ephod 29:10-14: The bull
28:13-14: The Settings 29:15-18: The first ram
28:15-29: The Breastplate of Judgment 29:19-28: The second ram
28:30: The Urim and the Tumim 29:29-37: Succession of High Priesthood
28:31-35: Robe of the Ephod 29:38-46: The tamid offering
28:36-38: Headplate 30:1-10: The Incense Altar
28:39: Tunic


Ki Tisa (30:11-34:35) – (When You Take):
Haftorah: I Kings 18:1-39 (Ashkenazi); I Kings 18:20-39 (Sephardi)
30:11-16: The census 32:22-29: Aaron explains
30:17-21: The Laver 32:30-35: Moses prays
30:22-33: Anointment oil 33:1-6: Aftermath of the Golden Calf
30:34-38: Incense 33:7-11: Moses’ tent
31:1-11: Designation of Bezalel and Oholiab 33:12-18: Moses pleads for G-d’s nearness
31:12-17: The Sabbath 33:19-23: The limits of Moses’ vision
31:18: Moses receives the Tablets 34:1-4: The second Tablets
32:1-6: The Golden Calf 34:5-7: G-d reveals His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy
32:7-10: G-d’s anger 34:8-10: Moses’ request
32:11-14: Moses’ successful prayer 34:11-26: Safeguarding the promise
32:15-18: Moses descends 34:27-32: Renewal of the covenant
32:19-21: Moses smashes the Tablets 34:33-35: The radiance of Moses


Vayakhel (35:1-38:20) – (And He Assembled):
Haftorah: I Kings 7:40-50 (Ashkenazi); I Kings 7:13-26 (Sephardi)
35:1-3: The Sabbath 36:37-38: Screen
35:4-9: Contributions for the Tabernacle 37:1-5: Ark
35:10-20: The construction of the Tabernacle 37:6-9: Cover
35:21-29: Inspiration from the heart; motivation from the spirit 37:10-16: Table
35:30-25: The craftsmen are selected 37:17-24: Menorah
36:1-7: The mandate 37:25-29: The Incense Altar
36:8-18: The work begins: The Curtains 38:1-7: Burnt Offering Altar
36:19 Cover 38:8: Laver
36:20-34: Planks 38:9-17: Courtyard
36:35-36: Partitions 38:18-20: Screen


Pekudei (38:21-40:38) – (Amounts Of):
Haftorah: I Kings 7:51-8:21 (Ashkenazi); I Kings 7:40-50 (Sephardi)
38:21-23: The Reckonings 39:30-32: Headplate
38:24-31: Materials used for the work 39:33-41: Moses inspects the Tabernacle
39:1: Aaron’s Vestments 39:42-43: Moses approves
39:2-7: Ephod 40:1-16: The command to set up the Tabernacle
39:8-21: Breastplate 40:17-33: The Tabernacle is erected
39:22-26: Robe of the Ephod 40:34-38: G-d’s glory fills the Tabernacle