- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 27, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we make our way to Shabbat.
The beginning of the book of Exodus begins with a master lesson on hate with a hint to its antidote. It begins with clear information: what are the names and the total number of those of Jacob’s family who ended up in Egypt. The answer: 70. By verse 7, we also learn that generation all died, but their descendants increased.
Exodus 1:7 But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
The last phrase of this verse shares an important detail about the presence of the Israelites. The land was filled with them. Should we interpret this as negative or positive? The specificity of the names and number in the previous verses provided a note of respectful regard for the individuals and the particular families. The focus to the land filled with them strips the Israelites of their humanity. The narrative has transformed them into a faceless, swarming group who no longer have any status as the next informs us:
Exodus 1:8 A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
Whatever favor the Israelites had gained in the past no longer prevailed. Their ancestor, Joseph, had set them up in Goshen, made sure they prospered and had bread to eat, could not help them. How would this new king react to this multitude?
Exodus 1:9 And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.
This faceless, ever growing population frightened and threatened him. Perhaps, he conjured up in his mind baseless accusations that they were a menacing force, that there were those among them who had ill intentions toward the Egyptians. Nothing about what the text revealed so far provides any basis for reality. These kind of leaders are never interested in assessing a situation with facts. They are too self possessed and paranoid to seek counsel. Nevertheless, Pharaoh jumped to a conclusion and determined a plan.
Exodus 1:10 Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.”
Pharaoh controlled the narrative. His subjects regarded his word as divine. Numbed to his loathing ways, they quickly succumbed to his scheming and suppressing intent. One person spewing hatred may not be worrisome, but the circle quickly expands and so does the danger. Normalization of bigotry and mistreatment follows.
Exodus 1:11 So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor;
The Israelites suffered from the oppression, the paranoid pre-emptive strike of cruel servitude. People in harsh conditions can sometimes garner certain strength; as if the power the tyrants robs from them remains in a different way. The Israelites were not deterred and the Egyptians must have felt it.
Exodus 1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.
Someone like the Pharaoh filled with hate recruited others who then in turn behave with utter disregard of a person’s dignity. They all sow seeds of a destructive despicable environment taking their heartlessness and intentional malice to new levels.
Exodus 1:13 The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites.
But the story doesn’t end here. The antidote to hate is standing up to it. We call those who witness it and leap forward to alter the story upstanders. The midwives will resist the Pharaoh’s decree to murder all the newly born baby boys. The daughter of Pharaoh will, at what may have been great danger to her life, lift and support baby Moses out of the water to ensure his and the Israelites’ survival. The Exodus narrative is a story of upstanders. Despite an environment of hate, they risk themselves in the name of what is right and just. They helped to guarantee that the story may have started with degradation but will conclude with the continual pursuit of dignity.
May the (secular) New Year bring all of us great strength and courage to stand up and erase hate.
We gather tonight for a wonderful Qabbalat Shabbat welcoming one another and a couple of sweet babies. Services begin at 6:00 p.m. Live stream with us here.
Join for a provocative and engaging Torah study as we begin the book of Exodus. A short service starts at 9:00 a.m. followed by discussion and Kiddush.
I continue to appreciate your reflections and thoughts. Connect directly with me here.