Between Genesis and Exodus: From a Family to a People

Last week, we finished reading the Book of Genesis and today we start with the Book of Exodus. The first “parasha” (weekly Torah portion) is “Shemot” {שמות} – Hebrew for ‘names’ and it is found in Exodus 1:1 -6:1.

At the beginning of this “parasha” there is a short review on the last events of the Book of Genesis. The children of Jacob (Israel) went to Egypt and stayed there. When they first came to Egypt, the Bible describes them as a family: “So Joseph went in and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan.”(Genesis 47:1)

But right after the short review, the Bible tells us the following: ” But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.” (Exodus 1:7-10)

The term “people of Israel” indicates the shift from the “children of Israel” (Genesis) to the “people of Israel” (Exodus). This new status requires a new type of leadership.

In other words, up until now the focus was on a family – the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But now, when the family grew and turned to a “people” they need a new leader, someone who could guide them and show them the right path to fulfill their great destiny, someone like Moses – who we get to meet in this “parasha” for the very first time and we will talk about this figure a lot in the very near future!