Sh’mot 5782 – Escaping

By: Alan Bach

Tis the season. Since it is Shabbat, I hope everyone planned ahead to fulfill the mitzvah of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. Your festive meal may just have to wait until Motzi Shabbat this year. There is no escaping the music of the season. Hanukkah has long since passed and with-it Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, Ma Ozur, and of course Joel’s original lyrics to the tune of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Songakah. With Hanukkah coming so early this year, we are now overwhelmed with the music of the Christmas season. My family calls me Scrooge because I am not a fan of these holiday tunes. However, I do understand that there is a non-religious observance of Christmas which has become an American holiday and being an American Jew means being a part of these customs. I just don’t have to like it.

This week we begin the book of Sh’mot, probably the most well-known part of the Torah. Not only is Passover the most celebrated Jewish holiday, but the storyline of the Exodus from Egypt has lent itself well to Hollywood. Our story picks up with the death of Joseph, a new Egyptian king coming to power, the birth of Moses, and the raising of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter. Lots of time passes in these first four chapters.

Today, my focus is on Chapter 5. Here Moses in his best Charlton Heston voice says to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the Gd of Israel: Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness”. They continue, “The Gd of the Hebrews has manifested Himself to us. Let us go, we pray, a distance of three days into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord…”. Pharaoh responds with anger and instructs the Pyramid construction foremen to stop supplying the straw for the making of bricks, but he does not change the production quota. After a few days of beatings, the Israelites make a formal complaint to Pharaoh and ask why they are being punished when they are not part of the request from Moses and Aaron. The foremen of the Israelites then approach Moses and Aaron saying, “May the Lord look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his couriers, putting a sword in their hands to slay us.”

There is lots to unpack here. Moses and Aaron are taking the blame when they are just delivering Gd’s message. At this point, they do not understand why they have been tasked to be the messenger. It is human nature to quickly blame others. It was easy for the Israelites to get caught up in the day-to-day quota of bricks, to lash out against the cause of harsher punishment, and miss the big picture of what may provide their freedom and the freedom for generations to come. Not addressing the true cause of a bad situation rarely results in a long-term solution.

I am sure you have seen this same type of behavior in your personal life, in business or in politics. It is easy to blame someone else rather than to understand the true cause and fix the underlying problems. It is easier to find a scapegoat than a solution. As we enter the third year of this pandemic, we now have a better understanding of the necessary restrictions and personal sacrifices we were forced to make and must continue to make for the long-term benefit of society. Like the Israelites learned, we too will suffer in the short-term to prosper in the future.

And who better to teach the world these lessons than us Jews. Throughout our history, Jews have been the victim, the scapegoat of numerous cultures that have attempted to annihilate us. American Jews live a life of freedom and prosperity never seen in our history.  But didn’t the Jews of Spain before the Inquisition and of Germany before the Holocaust, think they too were integrated into their local culture? The opportunities for a better life are always in front of us. Yes, we will suffer setbacks, but we are a strong people that continue to overcome adversities.

The parasha purposely ends with a cliff hanger – one verse from the next chapter, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from the land. ‘” The Israelites who were content with the daily grind of manual labor and quotas had no idea of what was in store for their future. It is up to us to keep a positive outlook, fight for what is right, fix what is wrong, strengthen our faith and pray for that next miracle. Stay tuned…

Shabbat Shalom

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