We begin this Shabbat, the second book of the Torah, Exodus. This first portion is packed with issues and challenges and dramatic sweep. I wanted to look at a famous passage that appears at the beginning of the portion. Exodus 1:8 states that a new kind arose in Egypt “who did not know Joseph”. Rabbi Shai Held, in his commentary on this sentence asks: “how is it possible that the new Pharaoh does not even know him?” After all, “Joseph was enormously powerful, second in power only to Pharaoh himself”. This little passage, and Rabbi Held’s question, got me to thinking about a conversation that I had with some folks in recent weeks.
The subject revolved around the passage of time and the perception of becoming, as we age, invisible. It is like being told by society, your time has passed, now just be content to fade into the background and let new people take over. A woman who spoke to this, a woman of “a certain age”, remarked that she began to feel this way as people began to speak to her differently. She had been used to being spoken to in a business like manner during her work life. Now, however, she found that people began to infantilize her as they spoke to her. We run across this feeling as well when people “retire” without a sense of going to something else. The phone does not ring, there is a feeling of being not needed. The new Pharaoh may be time itself!
Of course, in the Exodus story, this new Pharaoh ushers in a period of slavery. I wonder if that can be symbolic of people who see aging as a type of enslavement, a period of decline and stagnation. Perhaps then, Moses can symbolize a sense of movement and growth, a pattern that can break the slavery of decline and foster a sense of growth and searching. All of us will undergo serious transitions as we get older. Again, we will be given choices, major choices as to how to relate to and live with those choices. We can never go back to the way things were, we know that. However, we can choose to see life as a continual unfolding of the possible. That is a real sense of liberation for each of us–no matter the new Pharaoh!
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min
PS: Thanks to Rabbi David Levin for last week’s D’var Torah