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Bo 5781 ~ Jan. 22, 2021

As we recall the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Hebrew slaves originally balked at Moses’ suggestion that G-d would redeem them from the slavery of Egypt. They were so overwhelmed by the work thrust upon them by Pharaoh, that they feared redemption  as deception. Taskmasters not only embittered them with hard labor, but also destroyed their ability to see beyond the unethical nature of the taskmaster’s physical and mental abuse. It wasn’t until much later, as we read in this week’s Torah reading, as the Children of Israel prepared for their actual departure from Egypt, that they could envision anything remotely possible beyond slavery.

Amanda Gorman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, imprinted on all of America that same narrative, in an American way, at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris. She left us awe-inspired and hopeful of our future. She shared with us her thoughts for the future when she proclaimed in poetry:

“This is the era of just redemption. 
We feared it at its inception. 
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, 
but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.
So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat offers an explanation as to how the Hebrew slaves were able to overcome their deception and imagine their own redemption. As we read the Biblical narrative, one might recognize that not one of the first eight plagues made any impression upon the Israelites to convince them any differently about their grim present and future. How could they sense any smattering of hope if the plagues were directed against the Egyptians alone in their territories?  It took the power of the ninth plague, that of an extreme darkness, to convince the Hebrews that redemption was within their reach.

What changed? The ninth and tenth plagues required that the slaves be involved in the historical moments.  During the plague of darkness, they were required to walk into the homes of their Egyptian taskmaster. Imagine the fear of the Egyptians, as they could hear their slaves pass directly by them and yet no longer had the ability to abuse them. The midrash speaks that following that plague, those same Egyptians were impressed by the fact that the Hebrews did not loot or steal. One midrash suggests that the Israelites simply asked for the return of the items that their taskmasters had stolen from them.

Following the three days of darkness, the midrash relates that the Egyptians sought out their slaves, not only asking for forgiveness, but also reaching out to help them in whatever way they could in preparation for their freedom. The midrash also shares that some Egyptians understood and joined the Israelites as they marched to freedom. 

As the Hebrews prepared to partake of the paschal lamb and the painting of their doorposts with the blood of the animal (so that G-d would passover their homes), the Egyptians could have acted in a similar manner as that of the Pharaoh. They could have demanded cessation of the preparation of the meal, the preparation of the matzah and the joining together of families in prepared celebration. Instead, they participated in history in a positive way.

In our Friday evening liturgy, the author of the Lecha Dodi paints a picture from destitute to hope. And while the words of the ancient poem that we recite are intended to inspire hope for Jerusalem, they have a similar positive meaning in our modern context as well:

Shrine of our sovereign, royal city, 

rise up from destruction and fear no more.

End your dwelling in the tear-filled valley,

for with G-ds compassion you will be upraised.

As the Hebrew slaves began to prepare their matzah, they could  have equally been inspired by the optimism for the future of Amanda Gorman’s words:

 “So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left. 

With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

The exodus from Egypt serves as our paradigm for redemption. The poetry of Amanda Gorman inspires in a similar fashion.  Both rouse us to:

Pray that people will rekindle the lost friendships of this past political season. 

Pray for health and healing.

Pray for those who are hungry and homeless.

Pray for those who are unemployed.

Pray for those are in need of our prayer.

Pray for the leaders and law makers of our country and states.

Pray for their ability to work together for our betterment. 

Pray for our country and our world.

Pray for ourselves and our families. 

May we be brave and bold 

to encourage friendships, mutuality, and understanding, 

with the hope of shalom and shleimut (wholeness).  Amen.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782