Shmot - weekly Torah portion

When the family of Jacob began its move to the land of Egypt the numbers were small, “All the persons who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy in number, but Joseph was already in Egypt.” As time passed, and after the death of Joseph “and all his brothers and all that generation” the numbers grew significantly, and “he sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them.” For the time being it seems that everything is safe, Joseph died, and then the entire generation, and over time the memory of a leader named Joseph faded away. Eventually, “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” A new king, especially for someone that bygone history is just a foggy and distant memory, looks at the here and now, trying to evaluate what the future may entail. Looking into the future may be the result of the sum of the opportunities such a person may be seeing, but may also be a result of the summation of all that person’s fears.

Leaders can lead by looking into the opportunities but surely find it easier to lead by flaming fears. That is exactly what the new king does. This was possibly because of his fear for his reign, or maybe simply because of a pessimistic view of the future. Regardless, with that choice he must present to the people some kind of imaginary enemy that has some physical manifestation. This way the people can identify the perceive enemy and believe in the leader’s observations. The king thus states, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” This sounds now quite a reasonable scenario to the people and allows the king to lay his plans, even though he really does not want them to leave, he needs them there, it is all imaginary.

For the plan to be successful it must develop gradually, desensitizing the people from the feeling that they are being oppressed so that eventually they will fully succumb to the rule by others. The king begins by placing taxes and continues with putting building quotas. It continues with hard labor and develops in to an attempt to control the population’s demography by ordering the killing of newborn males and leaving females alive. One step at a time, each time another decree, hoping that with each small step the people will get used to their somewhat worsened situation. That there will be no will, or urge to change the situation that is only somewhat more difficult than before. However, an opportunity does arise, “it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” The king who created so much misery has died and maybe, just maybe, there is an opportunity for change here.

Moses is the tool used to promote change. He receives a Godly mission, “behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” Moses must go and present himself to the Pharaoh, the new king, and maybe there will be here an opportunity for some change, a willingness to let the people of Israel leave the world of slavery to return to their homeland, but to which they did not yet know they want to be led there. They most likely wanted an easement of the hardships, maybe taking a few steps back, because their situation has worsened considerably, but not necessarily sufficiently to drive them out of Egypt. For that to happen they needed a Leader.

Any attempt to try and compare this biblical accord to present day Israel is made at your own risk. In our democratic world there is a place for civic discourse, attempts for persuasion, but most and foremost taking our fundamental symbol of freedom, the right to vote, and casting our ballot. Our exodus from Egypt is measured time and time again by our willingness to part take in the election process in a free and learned manner, that includes study and belief, that will result in the election of our leadership for the next term of the Knesset. We are undertaking a significant responsibility when casting our vote. One cannot sing passionately in Hanukkah “כל אחד הוא אור קטן וכולנו אור איתן”, “each of us is a small light but together we are a stable source of light” and by election day refrain of making tough decisions, taking our small light and casting our vote. The affairs of a state are complex, security and war, peace and life, health and education, tradition and innovation. We must consider all of these, and many others, and balance them all into that small piece of paper that goes into an envelope that we deposit in the ballot box. We hope that this piece of paper that holds into our hopes and aspirations will have a meaningful impact. Still, I must tell you, if we do not walk to the ballot and take that first step, we will become slaves to our non-participation in the four years to come. Go, convince, support, participate, and vote. Take into account also those issues that bring you here today, and throughout the year, and which you would like the next government to work on during its coming term.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 28 December 2018, 21 Tevet, 5779

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