This second book of the Torah begins with the history of Moses. He was born at the time when the Pharaoh wanted all male children killed, but his mother hid him until he was three months old, then she sent him down the Nile trusting in God to save him. He was found by Pharaoh’s sister, who took pity on him and saved him from being drowned.
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Miriam was following her brother, who the Egyptian named “Moshe”, and offered to get a Hebrew woman to nurse the child, bringing him back to his own mother. She raised him as a Hebrew child until he was weaned (back in those days that could have been until he was a toddler), and then he was raised by the Egyptians as one of the royal family.
As an adult, one day Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and in anger, he killed the Egyptian. That became known and Moshe fled for his life, ending up in Midyan, marrying a Midianite woman and working for her father, a priest of Midyan.
When Moshe was 80 years old, he saw the burning bush and God told him to go lead the people out of Egypt. Moshe made any number of excuses, each of which God handled by giving him miraculous signs to perform, and eventually even allowing Aaron to act as the mouthpiece for Moshe. In the end, God had to order Moshe to go; yet, on the way, Moshe still did something that made God so angry he was going to kill him, but Zipporah saved him by circumcising Gershom, his oldest son.
Moshe comes to the people and shows them the signs, and they believe him. Then he and Aaron go to Pharaoh to ask to let the people go three days into the desert to worship Adonai, but Pharaoh refuses, and to make things worse, he orders that no straw be given the people but they must still make their quota of bricks, forcing them to work day and night, gathering stubble from the fields.
This parashah ends with Moshe asking God why he has made things worse, and God explains that this is so that he can now show all his wonders.
Of all the possible lessons, both historical and spiritual that can be found within this one parashah, I want to talk about something that is, essentially, social.
The reason the Israelites become enslaved was not due to riotous actions, rebellions, or anything criminal. It was that they were blessed by God and grew strong. Their numbers grew, and the absence of any reason to enslave them, other than what the Torah tells us, i.e. the fear of the Egyptian leadership that these people may one day turn against them, indicates that they were living peacefully and separate from the Egyptians. The Israelites did their thing, and the Egyptians did their thing, and neither bothered the other. In the end, it wasn’t what the Israelites did that caused them to become slaves, but what the Egyptians were afraid they might do.
God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world, and since we know that God gives us blessings in order that we can share them, the blessings to the world were first found within Israel. And throughout history, every time Israel shares their blessings with others, it is turned against them.
In Egypt, they were enslaved for being prosperous. In Isaiah 39, we read that after Hezekiah shows the emissaries of the King of Babylon his riches, the king of Babylon decides to take them for himself. In Spain, the riches and business success of the Jewish population led to their persecution and exile during the Inquisition. Even the Pope at that time told Isabella not to exile the Jews because they were beneficial to the Spanish economy, but she refused to listen.
And we all know what happened in Germany.
Even today, many (if not most) of the technological and medical advancements that have benefitted the world came from Israel: did you know that Israel is the leading technological contributor to the world today? Yet, despite all the wonderful blessings Israel has given to the world, the world supports the enemies of Israel!
Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs!
God chose the descendants of Abraham, who the world knows as “the Jews” to be the way he, God, blesses the world. He has given us the gifts that have made the world better, but this blessing came with a curse: in a world that is sinful, egocentric and full of fear and jealousy, the gifts that the Jews share with the world have made them the targets of the world.
I have written before about the number of Nobel prizes given to Jews compared to the rest of the world. Currently, Jews represent .02% of the world’s population, which is 2 out of every 100 people. Yet, of all the Nobel prizes awarded, those won by Jews represent nearly 24% of all prizes, across the board.
Just as the King of Babylon wanted the riches that Hezekiah had, the world wants what God has given to the Jewish people. But, what the world doesn’t realize, is that these gifts from God are to be given to the world through the Jews. In other words, the Jewish people are the distribution means for God’s blessings; destroy the Jews, and there will be no more blessings.
God has certainly blessed us, but this blessing has also been the bane of our existence; God wants his people to bless the world, but in doing so the world has turned against his people.
Over and over we read in the Bible, and also see in human history, that the more the Jewish people bless the world, the more the world hates us. Even the greatest of all blessings, the Messiah, who came from the Jewish people, has been turned against us and under his name millions of Jews have been tortured, persecuted and murdered.
Yet, we persevere. God will never allow his people to disappear from the earth, and despite the terrible and unappreciative way the world treats us, we will continue to share our gifts and blessings with the world. Why? Because we fear God, and we want to do as God has told us to do.
When we obey God, he is on our side, and no matter what the world tries to do, we will NEVER be destroyed.
As Shaul said to the Jews in Rome (Romans 8:31): “…when God is with us, who can be against us?”
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Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and Baruch HaShem!