Monday, January 11, 2010


This parasha (summary here at My Jewish Learning, full text here at Mechon Mamre) continues the drama of liberation from Egypt.  Most of us are familiar with the story line, having heard it many times as children and as adults either in studying Torah or in celebrating Pesach around a seder table.
I have a few questions for you to think about:

  • Moshe is 80 years old when this part of the story begins.  I wonder, in today's society, when things change at a greater rate than ever before in history (as this story, Old Fogies in their 20's , shows quite dramatically) how do we relate to our elders?  In what ways is it possible to respect the wisdom of age while at the same time valuing the importance of change?
  • Does it matter to you that there may be a natural explanation for the plagues, as explained here in an article entitled "A Skeptic's Guide to Passover", by Michael Lukas published in Slate last spring?
    • What if there is a scientific explanation?
    • What if there isn't?
    • Is there a relationship between the way we remember the story of Hanukkah and the way we remember the exodus from Egypt?  Can you compare and contrast these two stories in terms of the role of God, in terms of miracles, in terms of how we celebrate?
  • How can you reconcile the idea of Free Will, a basic understanding of Judaism, with the story of how God "hardened Paro's heart" in this parasha?
    • There is a traditional saying in Hebrew:  "One mitzvah leads to another, one sin leads to another."  How might this apply to Paro's actions?
    • If Paro didn't have a choice about his actions, should he have been punished?
  • Is there a  traditional Jewish attitude toward people who are oppressed?  Toward slavery?  There were Jewish slaveholders in this country before the Civil War, as you can read in this article from
    • How does it make you feel to know there were Jewish slaveholders?
    • Why do you think Jews who lived in the north were mostly opposed to slavery, while those who lived in the south mostly supported it?
  • Do Jews have any special responsibility to confront injustice in the world?
    • If you answered yes, explain why you think so.
    • If you answered no, explain why you think not.
  • Do you think that the Hebrews who were living in Egypt in slavery thought about leaving before Moshe and Aharon came to talk to Paro?  Why?
  • Why do you think God insisted on so many plagues?  Couldn't God have rescued the Jews more quickly and without so many bells and whistles?

What are the big ideas you think we can learn from this parasha?

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