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December 23, 2021

12/23/2021 02:20:40 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

One of the more ominous verses in the entire Torah is found in this week’s portion. ויקם מלך חדש על מצרים אשר לא ידע את יוסף/A new king arose over Egypt that did not know Joseph. This verse seems so mundane and ordinary but it actually represents an incredible change in the Torah. Up until this point, the Torah focused on the story of our origins internally. With this verse, we suddenly see us becoming enslaved and having our entire identity changed from being the people in a relationship with God to being a people that were enslaved and then freed. The memory of this episode will forever change the trajectory of the Jewish people and our whole raison d’etre.

It is very hard to understand how a “new king” could arise in Egypt who was not cognizant of the past… or history. Egyptologists marvel at the historical records that were kept by the Egyptians and yet suddenly they had a leader who did not recollect the man who saved their kingdom and the world from a famine? This new king did not recall the protected status this unique people had in his midst? None of this makes any sense and so we look at this verse as being an ominous and foreboding one that must be instructive to each and every one of us.

What happens to a people who do not recall the past both distant and near? What happens to a population that at one time overcame immense struggles and then seems to have forgotten how they got to the place that they now find themselves? George Santayana is quoted as having said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, we are all too well aware that we as a people… we as a race… have perfected the art of repeating our history time and again.

We are just over a week from closing out the secular year of 2021 and beginning the new one of 2022. Just last year at this time, we were in the midst of a rapidly increasing spread of COVID that we were struggling to get under control. We were all excited to end 2020 as it had been a very difficult year and begin 2021. When 2021 began, we had the happy news of more and more access to life saving vaccines and we saw the number of cases begin to make a turn for much better. By the summer, we were beginning to let our guard down and many of us began to shed our masks. Then we were reminded of the Greek alphabet and the fourth letter “Delta.” The variant was awful and sent us back to the drawing board. It negatively impacted our plans for services and other activities. But we made it through the Delta variant and we were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Travel resumed, people began to go out to more places, and things felt better.

The problem was too many of us allowed ourselves allowed to hold to the axiom “out of sight… out of mind.” But the reality was that COVID didn’t go away and it has not gone away. We are now in the midst of another great surge and it is imperative we work together to keep each other safe. It is imperative we learn from the past and not forget it so we can find a way to freedom from this plague.

As we continue to move forward, let us not forget our role in all of this. Moses was chosen by God to be our redeemer because of three important acts. 1) He stopped an Egyptian taskmaster from beating an Israelite slave. 2) He broke up a fight between two Israelites. And 3) He rescued Jethro’s daughters at the well from people who were harassing them. All of these show that Moses had a great deal of belief in duty to his fellow citizens. We are obliged to help other people. We are obliged to act to protect those around us. We are obliged to look out for the well being of those around us. Even in the darkest of times, when we were enslaved in Egypt, Moses and others were able to see that light could shine and we could look to find a better day and better future.

As we have taken steps forward, and backward, it’s important to not lose sight of the reality that we’re better now than we were last year. It’s important to look and see that we each have a part to play in moving our world out of this plague. We all can do our part to stop this spread when we honor and remember our past and thus embrace our even better future.

Sun, May 22 2022 21 Iyyar 5782