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Parashat Shemot 5784

01/03/2024 12:46:53 PM


LL Giordano

Parashat Shemot 5784 / פָּרָשַׁת שְׁמוֹת to be read on January 6⎮25 Tevet

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, a new Pharaoh rules Egypt. Out of fear of the strength of the Israelites, the Pharaoh enslaves them and goes so far as to command the midwives to slay the Israelite baby boys at birth. The mother of Moses saves her child by setting him afloat in a basket on the Nile. Moses is rescued from the water by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses grows into an adult. He witnesses an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israelite slave and kills the taskmaster. He flees to Midian and marries Zipporah only to return to Egypt to liberate the Israelites after encountering God in a burning bush. On the way, God seeks to kill Moses and is saved when Zipporah circumcises her son and consecrates him to God. Pharaoh refuses to the let the Israelites go and God promises to punish him.

"...People don’t deserve freedom because they’re good. People deserve freedom because they’re people."

Rabbi Joshua Gutoff points out that the experiences of Isaac and Moses are not so different (God sought to kill both for inexplicable reasons and both are saved by the magic of substitution). So it is interesting that these two men lived such radically different lives. Where Isaac appears unable to fully recover from his experience on the sacrificial altar - describing God as his Terror (Gen. 31:42, 53) and ending his days duped and unable to understand his own children - Moses becomes God's friend and the person who leads the Israelites to emancipation. What makes the difference here, according to Rabbi Gutoff - the reason why God does not become Moses' terror - is that, in response to a terrifying and dangerous God, Moses works to redeem that God, pursuing the liberation of those who suffer oppression and violence. "The act of liberation allows Moses to live with a frightening God, even an apparently demonic God, because the act of liberation is about God."

Today, the terror of the world is inescapable as is the seeming endlessness of unnecessary violence and pain. As Jews in this moment, we feel this terror intimately; exquisitely as our imbrication feels both inescapable and yet somehow unclear. At least, I feel it so. My hope for each of us is that this intimate imbrication in today's terror will lead us always and only to act in service of liberation rather than to succumb to terror, hence serve its perpetuation.



Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784