This week rather than having a regular Torah portion to read we focus on the themes of Passover (Pesach) during our Friday night service and Midrash on Saturday (Shabbat). Let's take a few minutes to review those themes and how they impact us daily.
What exactly was the purpose for the Exodus from Egypt?
If you answered religious freedom or escape from slavery you would be with about 99% of the people who would answer that way. But the real reason is much deeper.
We read in the Shema (Ex. 6:7) “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d.” G-d’s avowed purpose was to create a relationship with the Jewish people. “You will be My people, and I will be your G-d”
To create that relationship, God had to first of all reveal Himself. That was the purpose of the ten plagues – “So you will know that I am G-d” (Ex. 8:18). Each plague revealed some facet of G-d’s mastery. For example, the plague of lice, which was the first plague that the Egypt sorcerers could not duplicate, showed that God had mastery over even the tiniest creations. The plague of hail, which included, “fire flaming amid the hail” (Ex. 9:24) showed that whereas the pagan pantheon had a different god for each natural force, the one G-d of the Hebrews controlled all, even competing forces.
The relationship that G-d was establishing with the Israelites was a relationship of love. Therefore, He had to show them that He saw and cared about their affliction. The Israelites had to feel taken care of by G-d. Relief from their suffering, freedom from their slavery, was not the goal of the Exodus, but was necessary for the purpose of establishing a relationship, the true goal of the Exodus.
G-d’s purpose in creating the world was in order to have a relationship with human beings. And since there are only two states of being, a state of connection or a state of estrangement, being connected to G-d means being connected to your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, and your neighbors. That, according to Judaism, is the purpose of life and also the purpose of the Exodus.
We Need to Trust G-d
From G-d’s first revelation to Moses at the burning bush, He made clear that the Redemption entailed not just emerging from slavery to freedom, but an actual geographical relocation from Egypt to the land of Israel. When the Israelites were poised on the border of the land of Israel, G-d said: “For the land to which you are coming to possess it, it is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it by your foot, like a green garden. But the land to which you cross over to possess it is a land of hills and valleys; from the rain of heaven it will drink water” (Deut. 11:10-11).
The Nile River watered Egypt and sustained its agriculture. Elaborate irrigation systems operated by foot used this reliable water source to feed the population. The land of Israel, on the other hand, depends on rain. And as the most avid viewer of the Weather Channel knows, rain is unpredictable. Exactly when it will fall, where it will fall, how much will fall, and whether it will fall in a gentle rain easily absorbed by the earth or a torrent that will flood and wreck havoc—all these are unpredictable.
Admitting uncertainty leads us to acknowledge our total dependence on G-d, which is true spiritual liberation.
Never Give Up Hope
And finally the lesson of the Exodus is this...we must not give up hope.
Egypt was a super-power. Its totalitarian government had absolute control over the life and death of its residents. Our sages tell us that no slave ever escaped Egypt. The Israelites lived in Egypt for 210 years. The slavery extended for 86 years. It started with genocide, throwing all the baby boys into the Nile, and continued with over eight decades of sadistic torture and oppression. By the time G-d appeared to Moses at the burning bush, that generation of Israelites had lived their entire lives under the whip.
Their only hope was that political change—a new regime—would lighten their burden. But when the reigning Pharaoh died and his successor was just as harsh a tyrant, the Israelites finally realized that their only hope was G-d, and “they cried out” to G-d in despair.
Immediately G-d responded by appearing to Moses and promising the redemption. But when Moses returned to Egypt with the tidings of redemption, he found broken, hopeless people. Our sages tell us that they were on the lowest level of spiritual impurity.
Then G-d performed miracles and wonders, and just ten months later, they were free. The super-power Egypt reduced to rubble, the Israelites walked out carrying the riches of Egypt like payment for their servitude.
The themes of the Exodus are with us even today if we pay attention.
- Build a relationship with G-d by studying, prayer and following the commandments;
- We need to trust G-d because all that happens is for a reason;
- Never give up hope - Hope is what is behind the words, "Salvation can come in the blink of an eye..."
Shabbat services are Friday evening at 7pm the Midrash (study session) is on Shabbat (Saturday) at 10am and we'll have our Community Seder starting about 5:30pm on Saturday.
Shabbat Shalom from Adas Israel the Jewish Congregation of Mason City, Iowa.