We Hold the Keys

We Hold the Keys

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

Have you had enough already? Have you reached your limit? If it isn’t COVID-19 and one of its variants, then it’s supply chain delays and economic insecurity. When will it let up? What is its expiration date?

In the book of Exodus, we find the Israelites in the throes of their own hardship in Egypt. Talk about reasons to complain and unrelenting suffering! Though they surely complained every day and suffered under the cruel punishments of an evil Pharaoh and his taskmasters, it wasn’t until Exodus 6:5, that we find a turning point in the story. There we read, “I [God] have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered my Covenant.” Their “moaning” is unique. The Hebrew word “na’akat” is a wail, a cry, a scream, a geshrey (Yiddish), that is unlike other cries described by other Hebrew words. This moaning or “groaning,” as Robert Alter translates it, is unique to the Israelite’s experience and it prompted God to act. But God’s promise to remember the Covenant God made with their ancestors and to redeem them with “an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements,” fell on deaf ears. The Israelite’s “spirits [were] crushed by cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9).

The story of the Israelite’s departure from Egypt, after 430 years of slavery, is well-known. The Passover story links us to them when we read, “My father was a fugitive Aramean,” (Deuteronomy 26:5). It makes us all strangers in the land of Egypt, who went free to receive Torah. God provided physical freedom (redemption) from Egypt, and Torah provided spiritual freedom (revelation) from internal bondage, as we read, (Proverbs 3:17), “It is a tree of life to those who grasp it, and all who cling to it are happy.”

In the Israelite experience, a pattern emerges: bondage, redemption, and revelation. After long suffering, physical freedom leads to enduring religious faithfulness. Our own bondage is reflected in personal and communal suffering, too, during this prolonged global pandemic. We have witnessed death (over 800,000 in America, alone), and we have suffered personal losses and shared grief. When will our redemption come? It will come when we cry out for the final time with our groans, our geshreys, and our wails, and then grasp the means to freedom that God has gifted us.

God has given us Torah wisdom, scientific discovery, and compassion at the root of the human experience. They are all means to freedom from this pandemic. Finally, the hope of revelation urges us on our journey to a destination without COVID-19. It won’t be Sinai, but it will be a place and time when our enlightened selves will never take for granted what we have known, namely, health, wealth, and happiness in a country founded on freedom. We don’t have to lock ourselves inside. The keys are in our hands to unlock the doors that isolate us. We don’t have to inquire when it will end. The answers have been provided us in modern solutions to overcome COVID’s worse effects. And faithfulness is hopefulness that a future without COVID is not God’s handiwork, alone, but our covenant with God to do our part with what God has given. As 2022 begins, let’s be thankful for the times in which we live and the gifts that we’ve been given to enjoy life, health, and peace.


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