Sunday, August 28, 2005

Exodus Chapter 1

1 Now these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls; and Joseph was in Egypt already. 6 And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. 7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.א ואלה, שמות בני ישראל, הבאים, מצרימה: את יעקב, איש וביתו באו. ב ראובן שמעון, לוי ויהודה. ג יששכר זבולן, ובנימן. ד דן ונפתלי, גד ואשר. ה ויהי, כל-נפש יצאי ירך-יעקב--שבעים נפש; ויוסף, היה במצרים. ו וימת יוסף וכל-אחיו, וכל הדור ההוא. ז ובני ישראל, פרו וישרצו וירבו ויעצמו--במאד מאד; ותמלא הארץ, אתם.

Chapter 1: Enslavement of a People
This chapter contains three discrete sections, the first about the beginning of the Jewish nation and the next two about Pharoah's plot against it. Each section contains approximately the same number of verses, contains a description of Israel's plentitude, has a doubled theme, and has a key word or idea repeated seven times (Hakham 17).

1:1-7 The Birth of a Nation
Genesis recounted first the origins of humanity and then the foundation of the Jewish people. Exodus continues the story of the Jewish nation, from the transformation into a people to the exile and redemption that permanently unites and molds the character of this nation. From a literary perspective, this summary of the end of Genesis serves to link the two books and provide continuity from one book to the next (Cassuto). Additionally, the descent to Egypt marks the beginning of the exile. Therefore, it is only fitting that the book of Exodus begin from that point (Ramban). It is certainly significant that the descent into exile and the enslavement of the children of Israel contains no mention of God's name. This amply represents the Jewish people's sense of abandonment by God in this time of suffering (Leibowitz 17-18). This section has two themes: the settling of the family of Israel in Egypt and its vast fruitfulness (Hakham 17).

1. Now these
Compare with Genesis 46:8. Beginning the book with a "vav" indicates that Exodus is a continuation of the prior book (Abrabanel).

2. Reuben, Simeon,...
Genesis 46:8-26 gives a more detailed list of those who descended into Egypt. This summary just lists the sons of Jacob without naming their children, and then provides a general summary of the number of people.

The list in Genesis 46 starts with the sons of Leah and lists them in descending age order, then continues with the sons of Zilpah in the same order, then the sons of Rachel, and then the sons of Bilhah. The list in Exodus follows that in Genesis 35:23-26, in descending age order by mother but after Leah's sons it continues with Rachel's, then Bilhah's, and then Zilpah's. The order in Genesis 46 is in family order, with the full wives' and their maidservants' sons listed next to each other and the two wives separated as much as possible, representing the domestic tensions in Jacob's home. The order here is that of the national social hierarchy, with the wives' sons first and then the maidservants' sons (Grossman).

5. And all the souls that came out of the loins of Jacob were seventy souls
Compare with Genesis 46:27. Of the seventy people, one is Jacob and all but one of the others are his direct male descendants. If we add to these the wives of all of the male descendants and the husbands of all the female descendants, and all their servants and their families, the total who entered Egypt must have been several hundreds (Hertz). However, the number of seventy descendants is reminiscent of the seventy nations of the world listed in Genesis 10 and implies that the people of Israel are a microcosm of the entire world (Cassuto).

6. And Joseph died
Compare with Genesis 50:26.

and all that generation
This phrase only tells us that all of the seventy descendants of Jacob who entered Egypt died (Rashbam, Seforno). Alternately, it refers to that entire generation, Jew and gentile, alive at the time the family of Jacob descended into Egypt (Saadia, Ibn Ezra, Hizkuni).

7. And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty
In comparison with Genesis 47:27, the increase in the children of Israel is described with twice as many adjectives. Genesis states " 1) ויפרו 2) וירבו 3) מאד and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly." Exodus states " 1) פרו 1*) וישרצו 2) וירבו 2*) ויעצמו 3) במאד 3*) מאד were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty." This doubling of phraseology emphasizes the rapidity in and abundance of their reproduction (Samet 157-158). These descriptions are reminiscent of the blessings given to Adam (Gen. 1:28), Noah (Gen. 9:1) and Abraham (Gen. 17:2-6) (Cassuto).

and the land was filled with them
This is reminiscent of the command given to Adam (Gen. 1:28) to subdue the earth and inhabit it This implies that the beginning of this nation is comparable to the creation of humanity. With the land filling with the Jews, in addition to the six phrases of reproduction, the text utilizes seven phrases to describe the abundance of the Jews. This represent completion and harmony, and that all was done according to God's intention (Cassuto).

Which land was filled with them? Ibn Ezra, in his two commentaries to this passage, is conflicted over whether the Jews filled only the land of Goshen, as implied by Exodus 9:26, or that the Jews spread throughout Egypt while maintaining a strong family base in Goshen.

(full bibliography after the last post in this series)

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