Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)…The Randomness of Life or The Hidden Hand of God?

Exodus begins this Shabbat. The beginning of the great symbolic episode of Judaism; a true metaphor for each of us.  This passage is so well known as it features the famous story of the “call” of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) and sets the stage for the drama that unfolds as Moses pleads to let his people go. But in thinking about this passage, I could not help but reflect for a while on an issue that seems to be of growing importance or relevance as we get older. That is the impact of events that we did not expect and how we choose to react to those events.

This passage is a test case, in some ways, as it begins with a sudden shocking shift in status for the Hebrews. Genesis ends with the Hebrews enjoying status. As Exodus begins, however, we read in 1:8 that “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph”. A new dynasty who saw the Hebrews as a threat and a period of slavery begins. A random act? Certainly an act that forced a total shift in living and life; a sad story that  has been repeated all too often. Did the Hebrews sense the change? Did they seek any salvation from this radical and seemingly sudden change in status? The description in the portion paints an ugly picture of persecution. We have no verse that speaks of rebellion.

Then Moses appears, but, under the rule that male Hebrew children are doomed. His mother sends him into a basket in the Nile and, with Moses’s sister watching, he is “discovered” by Pharoah’s daughter. The sister convinces the daughter to “hire” Moses’s mother to nurse te baby and eventually,  Moses is adopted by the daughter. (2:1-10). Was it  by chance that it was Pharoah’s daughter?  Or, was a silent hand of God directing this “miraculous” event?

One of the things that is fascinating as we age is how we choose (and have chosen) to react to events in life over which we have no seeming control. For some, there is no randomness. They believe that “there are no accidents” and that there is reason in each act or event. Yet, I cannot help but see that part of the gamble of living is the fact that life presents us with events, challenges and opportunities that we, in no way, could have predicted. Some of these are for good and some of these events emerge out of sadness. Often, these acts of sudden. The lesson is one of choice; in that how we choose to react to these random acts of life often determine how we live our life and who we are. The ingredients that make up how we choose, often reflect the messages we have been given from our own family of origin. Did Moses, being nursed by his own mother impact his act of rebellion years later when he struck the taskmaster? Do the choices we still make as adults in some way reflect the messages that we received from our own family so  many years ago? Do we still hear those voices?

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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