A Few Thoughts from Shemot

Last week, (December 16, 2021) the NYTimes online edition published an article entitled, Why 1,320 Therapists Are Worried About Mental Health in America Now. The article began, 

As Americans head into a third year of pandemic living, therapists around the country are finding themselves on the front lines of a mental health crisis. Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.  

While it is true that Jacob’s descendants in Egypt had not suffered from COVID-19 and its variants, for much of their last 380 years they did suffer under Egyptian oppression. In this week’s parasha, Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1, we read about the stage being set for the eventual deliverance of Bnei Israel from Egyptian bondage and oppression, beginning with the early life of Moses the second son of Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). 

We all know the story; the current Pharoah wanted to control the Israelite population and failed. Moses, who instead of being thrown into the Nile and drowned according to executive order, was safely placed on the Nile, rescued by Pharoah’s daughter and cared for by her in Pharoah’s own house. According to Rabbinic tradition, this daughter’s name was Bithiah or Bitya (בִּתְיָה). The literal meaning of her name is “daughter of God,” meaning daughter of HaShem, not Pharoah, because of her devotion in raising and caring for Moses. It is suggested that she named him Moses not only because she had “drawn” him out of the water but also because she knew that one day, he would “draw” Bnei Israel out of Egypt. While the rest of Bnei Israel suffered under Egyptian oppression, Moses grew up as a prince in Pharoah’s house. This would have been the end of the story had Moses not been “drawn” to see how his birth kinsmen were doing. Then after a strike for justice and a murder accusation Moses found himself fleeing Pharoah’s house and starting a new life with his Midianite wife Zipporah and becoming a sheep herder for his father-in-law Reuel.

Then in due time…

… the king of Egypt died. Bnei-Yisrael groaned because of their slavery. They cried out and their cry from slavery went up to God. God heard their sobbing and remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw Bnei-Yisrael, and He was concerned about them.

Exodus 2:23-24

While busy shepherding the sheep, Moses saw a bush on fire that wasn’t being consumed. He heard a voice from the fire and his discussion or argument with HaShem began. Eventually Moses agreed, to return to Egypt on HaShem’s behalf and to let the elders of Bnei Israel know that their time of oppression would be coming to an end. They were excited and worshiped HaShem, relieved that their deliverance was at hand.

Moses then went to the new Pharoah and delivered HaShem’s demand to let his people go so they could worship him. Pharoah magnanimously agreed…NOT!

“Who is ADONAI, that I should listen to His voice and let Israel go? I do not know ADONAI, and besides, I will not let Israel go.”

Exodus 5:2

Not only did Pharoah ignore Moses’ request, but he also decided that if Bnei Israel had enough time to even consider going out into the dessert for a worship retreat, then their overlords and taskmasters were not pressing them hard enough. So, Pharoah decreased their material supply but demanded they maintain their production quota, which meant punishment if they didn’t make their quota of bricks. Very soon their worshipping of HaShem for his promised deliverance morphed into deriding Moses and Aaron.

So they said to them, “May ADONAI look on you and judge, because you have made us a stench in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants—putting a sword in their hand to kill us!”

Exodus 5:21

From joy to despair, from deliverance to harsher oppression, the people were motivated and driven not by a future hope but by their current calamity. Here, if you haven’t guessed, is the connection I saw with the NY Times article. A number of months ago, it began to look like America, as well as much of the rest of the world, had crested the top of the hill of the COVID-19 pandemic. It appeared that vaccines were beginning to make a dent in the numbers of severe illness and death, and there was a hope that a degree of normalcy was just around the corner. Like Bnei Israel when they heard Moses’ and Aaron’s words of hope and deliverance, a sigh of relief and praise for better times were on the hearts and minds of many, religious and non-religious alike. People began to have hope. Then the Delta variant and now Omicron have given rebirth to lockdowns and hospital overcrowdings, not to mention closed borders and airways. Hopelessness and despair are driving many to the breaking point as the article pointed out. Economies which were barely beginning on the road to recovery, are now wondering if there will ever be an end in sight. 

The hopelessness is real, as real today as it was in Egypt when Pharoah turned up the flames of persecution. However, as followers of Yeshua we do not have to live in that state of hopelessness. Rav Shaul offers a number of words of encouragement in his letter to the Yeshua-followers in Rome. Note that he does not discount or deny their sufferings, but rather acknowledges their reality. He encourages them and us to do what Bnei Israel didn’t do and that is to hold on to the guarantee of a future hope.

For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of the One who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains until now—and not only creation, but even ourselves.

Romans 8:18-23

Then he continues to outline the two sources of power that work together to preserve that future hope.

For in hope, we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. In the same way, the Ruach helps in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Ruach Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Ruach, because He intercedes for the kedoshim according to the will of God.

Romans 8:24-27

The second source is clear, the power of the Ruach (the Holy Spirit) who not only guides and empowers our prayers but, at times when we feel we can go no further, prays through and for us. The first source, which is a little more difficult to visualize, is our own decision to hold tenaciously on to hope, even when everything around us says to let go. We choose to hold on to hope – then, in our weakness, the Ruach aids us. 

Finally, Rav Shaul ends his letter with these words of encouragement,

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and shalom in trusting, so you may overflow with hope in the power of the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

Romans 15:13

Without denying the reality of the cares and concerns of the world, we serve the God of hope, who desires to fill each of us with joy and shalom, thereby causing our hope to overflow and splash on others like a fountain, empowered by the Ruach ha-Kodesh.

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