Shemot - Weekly Torah Portion


Welcome to the book of Exodus, known in Hebrew as the Book of Names, Shemot, the book were a family becomes tribes and tribes become a nation. To go through this transformation the participants must experience a process of internalization of their situation and the need for a significant change in their lives. The challenges are great, the work is hard, the new Pharaoh does not know of the past but is certainly afraid of the future. He translates his fears of the future into prohibitions, difficulties, and cruelties to those who are outside of his reference group, attempting to and succeeding in inciting one group of people with another. He puts it simply to his people, “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.”

It is therefore no wonder that the Israelites “sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. 24 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.” We know what this covenant is all about, it is about the promise to get back to a place of permanent dwelling, the place that the Patriarchs left and for today’s people is a distant and blurry memory, if at all. The prophet Isiah in the Haftarah for this week’s reading from the Torah, recall such a period of God remembering his People, “In that day the Lord will start His threshing from the flowing stream of the Euphrates to the brook of Egypt, and you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel. It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.”

The prophet is certainly unhappy with the behavior noticing that, “In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people; A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment, A strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate.” It seems so good and yet Isiah does not see it that way continuing to state, “And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment. For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place.” He is certainly frustrated, “Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue.” It already seemed to be good, the details where there, justice was present, and it was good, and even so it is so easy to slip into muck. There is something so powerful about having power, so uplifting in the thought that if everything seems to be good around us that it means that we are doing good and well and therefore cannot make a mistake, cannot fall…

Still, the greatest mistake possible in such situations is to fall into despair. The past chair of the IMPJ, Yaron Shavit, has repeated often enough to ensure that we learn that “despair is not a work plan”. Today’s leaders of the Movement repeat this today, and our chair Yair Lootsteen focuses us on the true targets that we are aiming to achieve, even when times are tough and challenging. We must always get better, again, and then over and again, and despite. The prophet ridicules the people and leadership, “So the word of the Lord to them will be, Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there, That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive.” They are so dedicated to the orders, so careful to keep in line and fail miserably. It is because it is not about orders and not about lines, it is about the creation of a nation that is united, that justice is what leads them, that can embrace tribal diversity to be a source of significant power.

In a few days the process of the elections to the World Zionist Congress shall begin in the United States of America. These are elections of particular importance to our Reform Movement and we need every vote possible. As Isiah said, “you will be gathered up one by one, O sons of Israel.” It is an elections of the utmost importance that will allow us to have more influence on what happens in Israel. It is a once in five years opportunity for world Jewry who do not get to vote to the Knesset to influence and shape what happens on the ground in the State of Israel. The more voters the more influence we shall have in asserting the true might of the Reform Movement at-large. Today, the Jewish influence in Israel is tilted against us because of a disproportionate, corrupt and relentless so-called religious political force. Some of this we in Israel must change when we go and vote in early March. The USA Jews get the opportunity to do starting this coming Tuesday and until Purim.

Please call upon your Jewish family, friends, and acquaintances to vote ARZA, the political arm of the Reform Movement in the USA, in the WZC elections. Send these call to vote notices over and over again. As the prophet said we must gather them one by one, relentlessly. We need to blow the trumpet that announces these elections over and over again, because the States is large and we need our voice heard from one corner of the Land to the corner at the other end. We must gather them all into a significant political change that will allow us to change for good.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 17 January 2020, 21 Tevet, 5780

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