Like the round Challah, this week we cycle back around to the second book of the Torah, Exodus, and read the first parasha, Shemot. Just last week at the end of Genesis, we bid farewell to Jacob, who made his son Joseph swear that he would bury him in their Jewish homeland of Caanan, even though Joseph had brought the clan to Egypt, where they enjoyed much safety, fruitfulness, and prosperity, due to Joseph’s close collaboration with the current Pharaoh. Largely because of this relationship did Pharaoh grant this request.
Unfortunately, years later, Egyptian leadership changed, and in chapter 1, verse 8, we read, “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” By this, the writer means that this new Pharaoh did not want to know, work with, or live alongside Joseph, his tribe, and all his descendants. Verse 9 tells us that he was threatened by the multitude of Israelites which had grown during the reign of the previous leader. Those who celebrate Passover know what happens next: The new Pharaoh deals shrewdly with them and makes it his mission to destroy them. The entire book of Exodus outlines the journey of the Israelites; how Moses, Aaron, and Miriam lead them out of slavery to freedom and redemption; and how they began to navigate life post-slavery.
Every Shabbat, the kids and I watch videos about each week’s Torah portion. We always find the ones in the first two books of the Torah, Genesis and Exodus, particularly fascinating, and it has been such a joy to see Abigail engaging in thoughtful conversation and opining about the stories. Below are two sites that we visit each week. Both segments are under three minutes each and are from this week’s parasha in Exodus, Shemot:
At the end of last week’s episodes, we learned that things were going to get challenging for the Israelites. Abigail’s assessment was spot on when she said, “Well, Ema, it really was Joseph’s fault because he never should have brought them to Egypt in the first place.” Interesting, right? I reminded her of what had happened before in Parshat Vayeshev, when Joseph was cast out into Egypt by his brothers due to their jealousy. Joseph forgave them years later and even helped them to survive the famine he had predicted.
With the turmoil and pulling apart of our government, the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. and Europe, and the complete denial of reality that many citizens practice, it is easy to opine that someday we too may need to return to the Land of Caanan. This is an exceedingly difficult pill to swallow for so many of us, including my husband, who truly loves America, if only for the Yankees. I would like to propose that it is certainly not too late to change our trajectory. Today, we have so much more knowledge, technology, and connection than ever before. The Reform Movement has a gift for being able to explore all sides and intersections of the crises we are facing. I believe that we can come together as one, rally, march, advocate, and stand strong to make whatever land we choose to live in safe, prosperous, and peaceful. But it starts with love and respect for each other. Let us take the time to truly listen to one another’s viewpoints, even when they are in direct opposition. A whole program of autism therapy was developed called “Floor Plan.” It requires the therapist or teacher to literally get down on the floor with the child, do as they do, cluck like a chicken if they do, clap hands, or whatever they do, because it gains the child’s trust. I have witnessed firsthand the transformation that occurs when you gain someone’s trust. They then can come back to you and communicate in a real, and meaningful way, and together, you can find common ground. May this be so for us.