- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 20, 2017
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection.
The new Pharaoh we meet as we begin the book of Exodus doesn’t know of the power of the women of the people he despises.
He doesn’t know much about the men either.
“A new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph,” (Exodus 1:8). He proceeded to make sweeping generalizations without any cognizance of their story or their toil as slaves.
The Torah specifically uses the Hebrew word yada as the verb. We may associate the word in the context of intimacy, as in Adam “knew” Eve. The essence of its meaning connotes a deeper understanding, an interest that transcends the superficial.
Pharaoh didn’t bother to inquire. His hubris led him to believe in only his imagined perception that these people could not only threaten his kingdom, they (remember they were slaves!) could overpower him. Maybe if he had sought more knowledge, he would have discovered that these Hebrew slaves:
- Shared the story of a journey from Ur to Canaan because of a Divine summon.
- Developed a covenantal relationship between the Divine and their ancestors with a promise of “I will be with you” even in exile.
- Understood the belief in this sacred Force in the Universe that moves beyond oneself to consider another person.
- Experienced that although families are complex and complicated with jealousies, questionable decision-making, intrigue, and even manipulative maneuvering, they could turn into a strong and mighty people.
And, these slaves knew that certain human beings may think they possess the same power as God, but they do not.
Pharaoh had not accounted for the internal strength of this oppressed people. Midwives would surreptitiously figure out how to let these baby boys live. A mother would hide her child in a basket, saving him from a certain death and make it possible for this child to grow into the man, Moses, who would redeem his people.
Instead, Pharaoh preferred to be in a state of knowing nothing. He made assumptions, felt threatened, enacted oppressive and unjust laws.
To know nothing is dangerous. In the mid 1800s, a whole group of people in our own country called themselves the Know Nothing Party. It was actually a ruse to hide their nefarious xenophobia and prejudices. Eventually they drowned in their own hatred and were swept to the sidelines of history.
But, Pharaoh didn’t know something about his own family, too. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the Hebrew slave baby in the basket, she defied the same orders the midwives did. His ignorance was to his own detriment. Eventually what he did not know or refused to know brought his downfall so that he drowned in his own unworthiness.
To know is to be interested in the other. It is not just about the physical but the mind’s ability to comprehend the significance of another human being in one’s life and in society. It defies ignorance and connects us in profound ways. Shabbat is a taste of the ultimate knowledge of what the world can be, where empathy, understanding, and deep insight fill our lives and the world. So, may it be.
Join us tonight for Qabbalat Shabbat. It is always wonderful to be together in community. We have Torah study tomorrow and will end by 10:30 a.m. Those participating in the March will then take the T.
Please know that I greatly appreciate when you have a response or thought to what I present here. Let me know what you think.