Parashat Shemot: A Summary
This week’s portion tells a story often repeated throughout history: The Jews become prominent and numerous. There arises a new king in Egypt “who did not know Joseph” (meaning he chose not to know Joseph or recognize any debt of gratitude). He proclaims slavery for the Jewish people “lest they may increase so much, that if there is war, they will join our enemies and fight against us, driving (us) from the land.” (Anti-Semitism can thrive on any excuse; it need not be logical or real.
Moshe is born and immediately hidden because of the decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Moses is saved by Pharaoh’s daughter, grows up in the royal household, goes out to see the plight of his fellow Jews. He kills an Egyptian who was beating a Jew, escapes to Midian when the deed becomes known, becomes a shepherd, and then is commanded by God at the Burning Bush to “bring My people out of Egypt.” Moses returns to Egypt, confronts Pharaoh, who refuses to give permission for the Israelites to leave. And then God says, “Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh!”
Parashat Shemot. By Sivan Rahav-Meir
“We survived Pharaoh, we’ll survive this too.” This famous sentence, written by Meir Ariel z”l, is suitable for this week’s Torah portion and is suitable for the lockdown that begins tomorrow as well. Ever since slavery in Egypt, in the face of every calamity and distress, this has been our motto. We have known more difficult times, and we can draw strength from history, from a sense of proportion, from the fact that we survived crises greater than this.
But this is not enough. The question is: In what manner will we manage to survive this? The Parasha describes in one sentence the essence of Jewish resilience: “But as much as they would afflict them, so did they multiply and so did they gain strength.” Our goal is not only to survive the crisis but to prosper from it. The worse the suffering gets, the more we gather strength. During our servitude in Egypt, we grew to desire not merely a return to normal, but redemption. Ever since then, for more than 3,000 years, we have contended with many crises, but always grew and achieved greatness through them.
It is hard at the present moment for all of us. We are all in distress. “We survived Pharaoh, we will survive this too,” with G-d’s help. But afterwards, how will we look when the pandemic is over? Which treasures will be discovered, and which blessings will be revealed? Which positive changes – on a personal, national, and worldwide level – will we see?