We begin a new year with a new book of the Bible. The Hebrew name for the Bible’s second book is Sefer Shmot (the book of names), and its first parashah is also called by the same name: Parashat Shmot.
This is a book that takes us from the universal, as expressed in Genesis, to the national. It is a book about us, about who we are, about our successes and our failures, about our pre-national strengths and weaknesses. If Genesis is an idealistic book, Exodus *Shmot” is a realistic book. The text begins by emphasizing not lofty ideals but by presenting us with a simple listing of names.
The book’s first parashah covers Exodus 1:1- 6:1 and sets the stage not only for Israel’s enslavement but also its liberation. In reality, the Bible reports the enslavement of Israel in only a few verses (1: 8-14) and among these verses the most famous is: “VaYakam melech chadash al Mitzrayim asher lo yada et Yosef/There then arose a new government in Egypt that was unaware of everything that Joseph had done for that nation” (1:8).
From this verse it will take over half the book for Israel to regain its national liberty. Is there a lesson here? Is the text teaching us that it is a lot easier to enslave a nation than it is to free it? Is this first parashah teaching us that weakness leads to slavery? Is the book also teaching us that once lost, it takes both wisdom and perseverance to regain freedom?
Perhaps we best understand this concept when we note that Moses’ had to deal with the people’s almost schizophrenic attitude toward freedom. Like so many people, right down to those of today, there was (and still is) both a fear and love of freedom. On one hand, most people claim that they want to be free, but on the other hand, there is a fear of freedom’s responsibilities. The Children of Israel’s contradictory attitudes toward freedom would plague Moses throughout his journey, from Egyptian slavery to his point of entrance into the Promised Land. As we debate how much government is too much we note that the issues raised in this week’s parashah are very much still with us today. .
Exodus argues that to be free one must have a passion for freedom and to be willing to sacrifice for it. Passion is a substance that burns and is not consumed. It would then take a man such as Moses to notice the passion of the bush that burnt but was not consumed to win back the national will necessary for the nation’s freedom.
A lesson for this week may be that freedom is all too easily lost and it is won back only with great difficulty. To cite the “Hagadah” of Passover, perhaps this is a lesson that must be relearned “b’chol dor vador” in each and every generation. Do you agree?
Youtubes for the Week
Two peace songs
The Jewish – Arab Peace song:
The mothers’ peace song: