Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
The Exodus begins, tonight. This Shabbat, we open the Book of Exodus to the familiar story. If we read it as if it were new to us, then every verse would be filled with suspense, intrigue, angst, faithlessness, and hope, again. We would want to read to the end to learn the fate of the Israelites, because the plot is so gripping (Hollywood really knows how to pick a script). And, we retell the Exodus story every year in every generation, because the Exodus is such a great metaphor for our life.
From the Exodus we learn from our Sages, “All beginnings are hard.” It’s true. Anybody’s first day in a new job will be the most difficult. Anybody’s first love relationship will be the most endearing. And, anybody’s first journey will feel like the longest. It’s only after retirement that one’s career feels that it went faster than it really did. It’s only after 50 plus years of marriage that a couple might look back longingly on the years that went by so quickly. And, it’s only on the return trip home that the journey feels so short. Lessons we learn along the way become part of the commentary we add to our own Exodus stories.
On Friday, January 20th, the United States welcomes its 45thpresident. Statistically, 40% of Americans welcome the start of this journey even though it’s filled with suspense and intrigue. But, the rest of Americans already register angst and faithlessness. Remember that all beginnings are hard; and, angst and faithlessness can be overcome. Evidence of leadership and service to a larger cause can replace angst with confidence, and faithlessness with belief. It took Moses and the Israelites to reach some accord over the course of many years. Though Americans are in a hurry, it has institutions of Democracy and courts of law on which our nation has always relied. Leaders have come and gone; some have been weak and untrustworthy, and others have been great and remarkable. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic and a great president, was once falsely accused of having a direct line to the Vatican from which he would take his direction. Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate taught us that we had to hold our political leaders accountable. In the Reagan and Clinton eras, we learned how their respective strengths and visions enabled America to benefit from her core economic and social values. Through it all, our nation endured.
Like them or not, every American president is one of us, and about the newest president, 40% of Americans agree. Suspense and intrigue lead them to follow, while the others have no other choice. In the ancient story, some Israelites eagerly followed Nachshon into the Red Sea, as Moses raised his arms to part the waters. Given the alternative to return to Pharaoh’s Egypt, the others quickly followed. Moses stumbled in his leadership. He failed to sanctify God’s name before the people and lost his privilege to enter the Promised Land. But, eventually he accomplished what he was singled out by God to do.
We know lot about Moses, and our new president is no Moses; but, he is the one whom we need to watch and follow. At his best, he should raise us up and assure us. At our best, we should consider him to be another American like us, whom we need to hold accountable to the institutions of our land, to the standards we know are best, and to the outcome all Americans demand, namely, hope in tomorrow for one and all.
Together, let’s open the Torah to the first verses of Torah, and embark on this journey. We often wish it wouldn’t have to take us so far and for so long, but we have no choice. If we wish to reach a better time, a Promised time, together, then we must go and faithfully serve the needs of our nation.