Sh’mot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) When New Pharaohs Arise

Detail on synagogue in Rome - A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license) Detail on synagogue in Rome - A menorah and the Ten Commandments atop the synagogue in the Jewish ghetto in Rome, Italy (S. Cazon photo/Flickr.com under Creative Commons 2.0 license)

The Book of Exodus introduces us to the great symbol and metaphor of our tradition and, our life.

Our portion describes the birth of Moses, his encounter with the Taskmaster, his “call” at the “burning bush” (Exodus 3) and the beginnings of the wrenching emergence from slavery. The story changes in the very first chapter when we read one of the more famous passages that there arose “a new Pharaoh who did not know Joseph”. (1:8) A new power structure emerged and, like so many throughout history, cleaned house of those whose allegiance was to the former rulers. A “tale as old as time”. I am sure no one will have any trouble drawing parallels to contemporary life.

But, I want to focus in again on the journey of our generation. Let me suggest that Pharaoh can symbolize many things in our life. Look back, think about the issues and challenges that emerged randomly; events, people and challenges that were unexpected, that upset the balance of life. How did we respond? A Pharaoh can be a threat. It can be a challenge. A Pharaoh can be a life changing event that forces us to change our living pattern. Like our portion,we face the challenge and choice to become enslaved by this new reality, or, to gather our resources and strength and move to free ourselves from that enslavement.

I believe in what I sometimes call a theology of randomness. I  believe that this becomes more real as we get older and we come to understand that so much of what happens to us may be and often is, out of our control. It is how we choose to deal with this randomness that often determines the type of person we become and life we live.  Again, those choices rest within each of our souls. It is a life-long challenge to seek the freedom of our souls, and it is a challenge that often leaves us feeling as if we are in a Wilderness.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F. Address

 

About Rabbi Richard Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.

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