Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Va-eira
At our religious school assembly for the week, our Cantor spoke about out-of-sync calendars. We are reading about the beginning of the Exodus in the Torah cycle, even while the holiday of Passover is months away. Our Torah cycle calendar is not in synch with our holiday calendar. I added that our secular calendar shows that we are in the first month of a new year, but that happened several months ago on our Jewish calendar which by the way, technically begins in the Spring with the month of Nissan. Each of us has multiple new years in our lives, and holidays for one are different than holidays for another. We need to be mindful that time is not static, and that in some piece of our lives, each day is a cause for commemoration. The stories teach lessons that are of value every day, not just on specific days.
There is a precept in Talmud, “Aen Mukhdam v’Aen M’ukhar” – there is no before or after in Torah. Our tradition teaches that things happen and get attention, as they warrant happening and getting attention. The hidden gem in this precept is that we often find pieces of text that somehow seem to be out of place or out of order. The story of Judah and Tamar appears to interrupt the Joseph story out of seemingly nowhere. The Rabbis teach that it gets placed there for all sorts of teaching moment reasons.
So, this week we open the Torah portion with God’s four promises of redemption: God will take us out of Egypt; Deliver us from slavery; Redeem us; and Acquire us as God’s own. AFTER God announces this promise, the plagues begin to descend upon Egypt. Am I alone in thinking it odd that an “All powerful … all everything God” needed to bring the devastating plagues upon Egypt to make all this happen. Why couldn’t God just simply lead the folks into freedom to begin with?
This conundrum is why I love Torah! The answer is simple, “God did.” Okay, now, finish shaking your head in confusion and get this, “Israel didn’t want it.” Please remember that Israel and God … and Pharaoh are characters in the Biblical story. There is no evidence to prove an Exodus or an enslavement, outside of the Biblical texts. Our earliest of sages taught that the literal storyline in the text maybe nice, but it is not where the spirit of the text lies. Removing the names of the characters for a moment, we see an incredible psychological study of humanity. In fact, it is nearly impossible for us to not see ourselves in the midst of the story and the study: our Seder traditionally begins with the phrase, “I was a slave in Egypt.”
We are free. Yes, there are places in the world that are not, but we are. So many of us live expressly privileged lives. Still, though, things happen to us (the plagues) and we get stuck in them. Torah will be explicit, after the tenth plague, we are expelled from Egypt; we did not leave Egypt. God has already delivered us … all people. God has acquired us … all of us. We are redeemed and free. We ignore this miracle and get so caught up in being hurt or angry that it weighs on us to the point where we are unable to move at all … unless someone pushes us. Pain is real, and we let it consume all of us. It is almost as if we prefer to live with this weight on our shoulders than to simply look around and see how this brokenness is not the who we are, it is only what happened to us.
We choose whether to regroup and rebuild or not. For this reason, the redemption comes before the plagues. For this reason we acknowledge our own predilections towards pain over freedom as we begin Seder’s journey to freedom. Throughout Torah we read the command, “Therefore choose life.” Even with the setbacks … tragedies that plague moments in our lives, we need to have faith enough to see what can happen beyond the loss or hurt. We are amazed at the stories of people who have overcome the most severe abuses and who teach us that blessings transcend the pain. We acknowledge, in pain, those who are devoured in their misery. We are blessed … let’s acknowledge the blessing and celebrate the opportunities for growth, for healing and for experiencing blessings that are with us every day. For this reason, we read about experiencing the miracles about us, before we face the plagues prior to our freedoms, Shabbat Shalom.