Saturday, January 14, 2012

Healing and Enslavement

At the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit, Michigan on this morning's Sabbath, a Torah study, called, Parshat Shemot, led by Rabbi Dorit Edut, who heads the Detroit Interfaith Network, and, a healing verse gripped my attention, among other matters, at this vibrant place of worship in a gem of a City.

Mee She-bay-rach a-vo-tay-nu
M'kor hab'ra-cha l ee-mo-tay-nu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing,
And, let us say, Amen!

Mee She-bay-rach ee-mo-tay-nu
M'kor hab'ra-cha la-a-vo-tay-nu
Bless those in need of healing
With R'fu-ah sh'lay-mah
The renewal of body,
The renewal of spirit,
And, let us say, Amen!

The study sheet, another stirring piece, noted:
Why did Pharaoh decide to enslave the Israelites?

A Spanish medieval commentator, Nachmanides claims that Pharaoh had both strategic and economic reasons. He feared that the Israelietes, now large in number may join an invading army as a fifth column, and then escape with a considerable amount of Egypt's wealth. Instead of killing their leaders, Pharaoh begins to tax their property and force them to work on his projects.
He allowed the Egyptian officers to take over commanding them and allowed them to enslave the Israelites for their own projects and homes. Thus all of Egypt profited from the Israelites slave labor.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century commentator, claims that the Jews were "aliencs" in Egypt; therefore, they were considered a justifiable target for first reducing their rights, and then for harsh and cruel treatment. Pharaoh also had just come to power and was weak. As a way of strengthening his own power and rallying the people beind him, he encouraged the masses to oppress the Jews, hoping that his own popularity would increase this way, that is, allowing the masses to enrich themselves by stealing from the "aliens" and taking their own frustrations in violence against them.

A Midrash Exodus Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni wrote that the Jews may have brought the enslavement and suffering on themselves. After Jospeh died, the Israelites began to assimilate and become themselves. After Joseph died, the Israelites began to assimilate and become like the Egyptians, giving up the practice of circumcision, attending sporting events at amphitheaters and circuses, moving into Eygptian neighborhoods, and practicing their faith less and less.
Pharaoh and the people became suspicious of their motives and of their competing with them for businesses or moving into their neighborhoods. This led to strong opposition and Pharaoh's decision to enslave the Jews.

A modern Jewish biblical commentator, Nechama Leibowitz asserts that the Jews were apparently without any brave leaders who would stand up to Pharaoh and his oppressive measures. There was no resistance, no battle for rights. As a result, Pharaoh became bolder and increasingly oppressive until he had done away with all their freedoms and had totally enslaved them.

This methodology of teaching about enslavement invites engagement from the audience.

What are your thoughts, given the depth of these comments from learned leaders and commentators?

Isn't it true that culture always cries out for bold leaders?

Who are they today?

Are there any courageous and inspiring women and men to move us to morph, reform and
imagine better ways, moral and ethical people and institutions who recognize the need for change that begins with self?

Are there?

If not, why not?

And, what about you and me?

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