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28http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2010/12/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---12_24_2010
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_24_2010
12/22/2010 10:28 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 24, 2010

 

                From peace to calamity. That’s the transition we read about when we close Genesis and begin Exodus, this Shabbat. Genesis ends on these words, “Joseph died at the age of 110; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Exodus begins with the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob) who “came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus 1:1). They were prosperous there. Torah teaches, “But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). Then we read the verse that changes everything, “A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Thus, begins the span of Israelite slavery that would last for 430 years.

                There is nothing bright about the Israelite’s experience in slavery. We recall its gruesome and evil history when we read this portion of Torah, and in spring when we tell the Passover story. However, the remarkable epoch story also includes the role of Moses, God’s presence, and God’s covenant with the Israelites. We learn that Moses, though “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex.4:10), is a man of justice and compassion. It’s a perfect combination that enables him to fight for justice and to lead the people to freedom. God appears for the first time to Moses in a bush. Midrash explains that God appears to Moses in a lowly thorn bush to teach us that “if God can appear there, then God can appear anywhere” (Exodus Rabbah 2:5). It’s a perfect lesson for a time when God is needed in Egypt and in the wilderness. God also recalls the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and, God promises to go with Moses and lead the Israelites to freedom.

                Though the turning point in the story takes a terrible detour under a ruthless Pharaoh, it provides great lessons, too. In short, our story of tragedy in Egypt, also led us to victory in a story about faith. “Crushed by cruel bondage” (Ex. 6:9), the Israelites, nonetheless, responded to Moses’ message of hope and leadership founded on God’s promise to redeem them from slavery. They followed Moses. It wasn’t a perfect journey. There was doubt and rebellion. But, there was also victory after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and arrived at Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. The Biblical epoch is not stripped of grief and despair in order to spare us anxiety and disbelief. Rather, Torah records it all. It is a gripping story of human creation, redemption and revelation. It combines every human emotion and nuance to teach us about life as it is and also as it can be.

                The heritage of interpretation found in Midrash, empowers us to study and to seek lessons for living. That is the Jewish way. Even today, in the midst of crisis or trouble, in addition to praying that everything will be okay, we still need to know the truth and the bottom line. We want to be part of the solution that comes through real work and effort. Belief is part of the process when it gives us confidence that our work and effort are not for naught. Our rabbis taught us, “Pray as if everything depends on heaven; do as if everything depends on you.” Indeed, it’s a covenant between God and us.

                As Shabbat begins and we enter this day of rest and joy, please remember that Beth Israel holds worship services every Erev Shabbat at 6:30pm, including December 24th and 31st. Shabbat morning Torah study, too, will take place at 9:45am, on December 25th and January 1st.

                From my family to yours, happy holidays and Shabbat Shalom.

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