A Water from the Well blog post, Parashat Sh'mot
Written by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
We are standing on the hinge of a new year as we open a new book of Torah. Exodus begins with the naming of all those individuals who descended into Egypt, and then makes the famous statement that sets up the entire Exodus narrative וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ־חָדָשׁ עַל־מִצְרָיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יָדַע אֶת־יוֹסֵף: And there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
A new king, a new time, devoid of connection to past supportive relationships. This new leader does not know history and has no regard for human life. Feeling threatened by the growth of an alien people among the Egyptians, this leader sets out to weaken them and ultimately to destroy the Israelites through a horrible plan of infanticide.
The rest of the Exodus story unfolds with God and freedom on our side. You know the story. We sing of it in every Shabbat service and tell of it in every Passover Seder. And all the while, as we celebrate our redemption in ancient times, still we witness the destructive power of fear and hatred in every generation, throughout the world and in our own precious community today.
Perhaps you have heard or read about the recent demonstration by a white nationalist group, about twenty neo-Nazis, who gathered outside the Seacoast Rep Theater on December 18, Shabbat morning, in protest of a drag queen story hour? They marched through the streets of Portsmouth shouting transphobic and antisemitic slurs. They announced their intent to return on January 8, 2022, coinciding with the next drag queen story hour.
The Seacoast Rep Theater responded with a call out to the Portsmouth community to show up at the same time for A Gathering of Love & Support called “Love Will Always Win.” And so, on Shabbat morning, January 8, we will hold a shorter Shabbat morning service in the sanctuary and then at 11:00 am we will walk over to the theater, where I have also been asked to be a speaker, representing the Jewish community of Portsmouth.
I think about all of us, facing this moment and the many challenging moments we have witnessed this past year. Turning to our sacred text this week, we find Moshe, a simple shepherd, standing before a flaming bush, being called upon to deliver the message of freedom and love, in a face-to-face confrontation with the force of oppression and hatred.
And Moses, our great leader, resists the call.
He is filled with self-doubt and fear. He does not feel capable, does not believe he can be successful.
Still, the voice of holiness persists.
And God tells him: ki Eh’yeh imakh– I will be, with You.
And when Moses resists again and asks, “Who shall I say has sent me?” God answers with the same word, repeatedly: Eh’yeh asher Eh’yeh– I will be, that which, I will be.
Tell them Ehyeh– I will be– has sent you.
God will be present in the encounter.
And still Moses resists, complaining now of his inability to speak.
And God tells him, You will not be alone. Your brother Aaron will go with you. You will have human and Divine support.
My friends, fellow Jews, good people, we are all, each of us, being called to be present, in this hour and in our days, to confront hatred in all its forms with love. Our Torah makes two very powerful statements, an eternal teaching: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – v’ahavata l’reiakha kamokha– Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18) and הַגֵּר | הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ כִּי־גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – v’hageir hagar itkhem, v’ahavta lo, kamokha and the stranger who lives in your midst, you shall love him as yourself for you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. (Lev. 19:34)
We understand oppression and we understand redemption.
That is our eternal story, and we are being asked, now, to show up.
When God first called Moses, at the burning bush, he did not hesitate. He answered הִנֵּנִי-Hineini- I am here. Before all the fears and doubts rushed in, he answered- Hineini. I am here. (Ex. 3:4)
January 8 will be one day, one gathering to foster an ethos of love in our community. But our times demand an ongoing dedication to showing up for love.
Like Moses, we are being called and like Moses, let us answer הִנֵּנִי-Hineini.