Sunday, January 29, 2006

Va-era

Ex. 8:7-18 (Oops, I originally had Genesis - sorry.)

“But on that day I will set apart the region of Goshen, where My people dwell, so that no swarms of insects shall be there, that you may know that I YHVH am in the midst of the land.”
- Ex. 8:18

This verse is traditionally understood to mean that the Israelites were spared from suffering the effects of the last nine plagues, but we know that in the real world this is not so. Rebelling against oppression is not easy; in fact, it is more likely to make things worse for those who seek justice. Unfortunately, the story of the Israelite slaves being forced to hunt for their own straw and still turn in the same quota of bricks every day is much more true to life. Dissidents and rebels are smeared, ridiculed, ostracized and worse, even when their hearts are pure and their causes are just.

How, then, can this story speak to us in the modern world, where God does not protect the oppressed with miracles? I believe that the answer lies within the human spirit. There are many points in every revolution of this sort when the rebels can do one of three things: give up, become a mirror image of what they fight against, or persevere and remain true to their cause. There comes a time, perhaps a separate time for each participant who perseveres, when they are “set apart,” when the suffering, while it never ceases to affect them, does cease to matter in the face of what they are struggling for. When the marchers in the Civil Rights Era braved fire hoses and dogs, when the refuseniks in the Soviet Union went to prison, they knew that God was not going to magically protect them from harm, but they stood up for what they believed anyway. Their region of Goshen was within, and God was the Power that succored them there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Quick thoughts on Sh'mot

Exodus 3:16-4:17

The main thing that jumped out at me about this aliyah is the fact that, for all that God is supposed to be angry at Moses for lack of faith in the people, it really seems to me that God is the one who lacks faith. He tells Moses that if “they do not believe you or pay heed to the first sign (turning the rod into a snake), they will believe the second (the hand in the robe turning leprous). And if they are not convinced by both these signs and still do not heed you,” then Moses is to do the Nile-into-blood trick, although only with some water on the ground, not the whole river, which is much more impressive.

As for the reason why Moses is doing “Egyptian magic tricks,” which came up in our beit midrash last week, obviously he has to show the Hebrews that he can meet their oppressors on their own turf, as it were. Also, as someone else pointed out, the Hebrews have been part of that culture for quite a while, if not necessarily 400 years, so it makes sense that they would be impressed by the same things.