Dear Congregation Kehillah and Friends,
Usually, this email with our kavannah for candlelighting (sent on weeks that we do not meet for Kabbalat Shabbat), is brief. Please forgive the length here, but since we are not together this Shabbat, I wanted to share the following with you and hope that you find it worthwhile.
We have now started to study the second book of the Torah, Shemot or Exodus. There is so much that happens in this one parasha....so here's a quick 'catch-up':
The parasha starts with a listing of the names (shemot)of those descendants of Jacob who were settled in Egypt and becoming populous. The second paragraph describes the rise of a new pharaoh "who did not know Joseph" and the subsequent enslavement of our people, along with decrees for hard labor and the killing of all Israelite sons. We are introduced to Shifra and Puah, midwives, who bravely refused to follow Pharaoh's order (since he was 'god', orders were disobeyed under the penalty of death) and to the birth of Moses and his being reared in the palace (all within a page!). Shortly after, we read of his experience witnessing the suffering of our people and the incident of striking the Egyptian taskmaster, which gets him expelled from Egypt and sends him into the wilderness where he eventually makes it to the tent of Jethro, the priest of Midian. Moses marries Tziporah, Jethro's firstborn daughter. Moses becomes a shepherd and encounters God in the burning bush at Mt. Horeb. He is given the directive to return to Egypt to tell Pharaoh "Let My (God's) People Go from slavery to you in order that they may serve Me." Moses asks to know God's name and is told it is Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. Often translated as "I Am That I Am", I prefer to translate it as "I Will Be That Which I Will Be" (or Am Becoming), leaving it open for us to participate in the unfolding of The Holy Name through our own relationship with the Divine. Moses and his brother Aaron reunite and together approach Pharaoh, whose heart is hardened and the plight of the Israelites worsens. Meanwhile, in a most unusual paragraph, we learn that Moses' life was spared when Tziporah fulfilled what should have been Moses' responsibility in circumcising their son.
I know I have shared this before, but the message is a most powerful one. Here we see, I believe, the first examples of civil disobedience in history by Shifrah and Puah as well as Yocheved, Moses' mother (who decided to have another child, despite the decree), and Bitya, too (Pharaoh's daughter who pulled Moses from the Nile and raised him as her own son). While the law of the civil government is viewed as binding as the law of Torah, Judaism considers each individual personally responsible before God for his/her actions. Only a generation after the Holocaust, no person of conscience can believe that authority in every instance must be obeyed. These ideas were embedded in us by our rabbis and prophets - men and women, some of whose names we do not even know, individuals who, like Moses, found themselves facing a burning bush with a voice that cried out: grow up, rise to your higher self, to your full human potential....
The Jewish ideal is not only the perfection of individuals, but, in some sense, a political vision as well - tikkun olam - the repairing of the world under the rule of God - forcing us, demanding of us to think in bigger terms than just our own lives and families to make the world more just for all.
This is a challenge for us today, too, as we are tired of living with the incivility and unkindness of our political rhetoric along with ongoing COVID (even as we view it as no longer relevant, so many are getting ill and it is unsettling, interfering with life and plans) and moving towards yet another recession. How do we honor our own needs while also being sensitive to the needs of others within our community? How will we choose to respond when we are in pain, when the world does not seem ‘right’?
There is a burning bush in each of our lives and a voice that calls to us at some point to speak up, to reach out, to repair the world...to be the voice for those whose voices are squelched, for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the repressed, the underrepresented, the powerless in society. And that is the measure of our love and our compassion, as we become agents for the fulfillment of our own mission... to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.