Monday, December 16, 2013

Some Come To Laugh Their Past Away, Some Come To Make It Just One More Day (Robert Hunter, Billy Kreutzman, Jerry Garcia - "Franklin's Tower")

This week, our family will be boarding a plane and heading to the West Coast. Even though Winter barely officially begun, the cold and the snow makes it seem like we are in the middle of February. So a visit to sunny (hopefully) Southern California is an eagerly anticipated break from the cold and the snow.  Besides visiting Los Angeles, the home of my wife’s sister, her husband and their four children; we also make it a point to visit San Diego and the community in which we lived prior to moving to Toronto. Our visit to San Diego is as much as a desire to visit as it is a sense of obligation to our chevre (our community).  This obligation runs both ways: when members of our community are in Toronto, or are making their way to the East Coast, quite frequently, our friends make it a point to visit us. We feel that as long as we are on the West Coast and less than 150 miles away, we make it a point to visit them. For me, at least, it is important to remind myself that I am connected to a past, and to a community that was quite unique. Not only were these friends; they were my surrogate family since most of our families were back East.  Our visit to San Diego is always a connection to our past.
This week’s Parsha is the first Parsha of the second book of the Torah: Exodus or Shmot. Parsha Shmot In this week’s Parsha, Shmot, we encounter a man who is born a Jew, but he grows up in the Pharaoh’s Palace. He is a totally assimilated Jew. Pharaoh’s daughter gives him an Egyptian name, “Moshe(Ex 2:10). After fleeing Egypt, this well-bred, noble Egyptian, is befriended by a non-Jewish (Midian) priest, and marries his non-Jewish daughter (Ex 2:21). While shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks (Ex. 3:1), he experiences a revelation. Through an insignificant thorn bush that burns, he sees an angel and then God (Ex.3:1-3). God tells Moshe of the covenant and that he has been hired to lead B’nai Yisroel out of Egypt. Moshe humbly explains that he is the wrong person for the job. Eventually God convinces and then tells Moshe that he has been designated as the person who will fulfill the plan. Moshe goes to Egypt, and the first steps in the freeing of Bnai Yisroel from slavery begin.
Throughout the Parsha, we encounter several moments where we are reminded that this second book, Shmot is deeply connected to Breishit. The Torah reminds us of this connection linguistically, literarily and thematically. The first letter of the Parsha, “vav” connects Shmot to the previous book. The Parsha should have begun with the words Eilah Shmotthese are the names. Because the Parsha begins with V’Eilah ShmotAnd these are the names; we are reminded that something came before what we are about to read (Yetziat Mitzrayim- Exodus). We are reminded that the Exodus is deeply connected to Genesis.  Moshe makes his way up to a “Mountain of God” (Sinai/Horev) in search of a lamb only to experience God calling out to him twice and experiencing a revelation; we are reminded of Avraham Avinu heading toward a “Mountain of God” (Har Moriah), with his son Yitzchak, experiencing God calling out to him twice, a revelation and search for a lamb/offering that happened to be stuck in a thicket. We are reminded that both Avraham and Moshe experienced a private revelation and were privy to God’s plan/prophecy concerning Bnai Yisroel. Later, when God has to convince Moshe to go to Egypt in order to fulfill God’s plan; we are reminded of Yaakov Avinu’s hesitancy to descend to Egypt and fulfill God’s plan. In both cases, God needs to explain and re-assure both leaders that everything will be for the good.
The subtle reminders and connections between Sefer Shmot and Sefer Breishit serve two functions. For the Moshe and Bnai Yisroel who was enslaved at the time, the covenant made between God and the Patriarchs in Breishit served as a source of strength for their enslaved descendants. For Moshe, even though he was raised in the Egyptian palace, he was also a descendant of these patriarchs, and therefore a beneficiary and custodian of God’s Brit. For us, the readers of the text, we understand that our past connects us to our present and provides us insight into shaping our future.  Revisiting our past gives us perspective as we make our way in the present and head towards the future. Sure we will enjoy the physical warmth of San Diego, as well as the spiritual warmth of our Chevre. It will serve as a reminder of how blessed we are that we have such wonderful friends as well as give us perspective to appreciate the Jewish vibrancy of Toronto and the path of our family’s life.
Rav Yitz  

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