Shabbat Shemot 5784

And I wanted to begin this dvar Torah on the second book of the Torah by reminding us all that one must never begin a sentence with a conjunction. Let alone a paragraph. Let alone a book! But (oops, I did it again) that’s exactly how Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus, begins. “Ve-eleh shemot Bnei Yisrael–And these are the names of the children of Israel” (Exodus 1:1). In fact, five other Biblical books begin with the letter vav, a conjunction with several possible functions.

While the Schoolhouse Rock song plays in your head, you might be tempted to think that the rules of English grammar simply don’t apply to Biblical Hebrew, meaning that there’s nothing wrong with leading off with a vav. But the sages weren’t oblivious to the oddity. They recognized that sometimes the text uses the word without the vav and other times with it. “Rabbi Abahu said in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimrah, ‘Any time eleh is written, it invalidates what came before it; whereas ve-eleh adds to what preceded it” (Midrash Lekah Tov, Shemot 1:1). Or, as the 20th-century Bible scholar Nahum Sarna wrote: “The initial vav acts as a connective with Genesis, thereby suggesting continuity with the preceding narrative” (The JPS Humash Commentary: Exodus, p. 3).

What are the key points of continuity that we are supposed to have in mind as we begin this book of the Torah? And what lessons can we learn from this seemingly misplaced conjunction about the most important narratives in our world?

Shabbat Shalom and Shalom al Yisrael,

Rabbi David Wise

Candle lighting: 4:23 PM
Torah Reading: Exodus 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:-28:13; 29:22-23