Tuesday, January 6, 2015

And Might And Glory Gonna Be My Name (John Barlow & Bob Weir- "Estimated Prophet")

During dinner one night last week, we talked about the recent decision by USY (United Synagogue Youth) to permit its executive council to inter-date. For our children, the discussion raised several important issues. First my wife and I explained what USY is, and then we explained Conservative Judaism. Then we talked about inter dating.  Interestingly enough, our children did not focus upon the issue of inter-dating. Rather they focused upon the change of policy and whether or not the elected members of the USY Executive council need to be an example of Conservative Jewish behavior for their fellow USY members. However the most passionate issue our children focused upon and perhaps the issue that they were most confused about was the fact that young adults in their late teens and early twenties were changing a policy that affected a branch of Judaism. Ultimately they wondered aloud that if enough rules are changed or even abolished, does that change Conservative Judaism? One of our children even commented that if enough rules are changed or even abolished then Conservative Judaism is a movement in name only but in substance it will come to mean nothing.  I smiled and nodded approvingly.
This week we begin the second book of the Torah; the Book of Exodus – Sefer Shmot. This second book begins with the Parsha Shmot. This week, we begin the Book of Shmot, the Book of Exodus. The first few verses essentially recount the ending of the Book of Genesis. Shmot re-iterates the fact that Yaakov and his sons came to Egypt, Yaakov dies, and the next generation, Yaakov’s sons (including Yosef) pass away. A new king assumes the mantle of power and does not know of Yosef’s great deeds. Instead, the new Pharaoh believed that this foreign population was tantamount to a fifth column. Therefore this tribe must be enslaved in order to prevent their uniting with Egypt’s external enemies. We read about the birth and growth of Moses, and his flight to Midian. We read about his becoming a husband, a shepherd, a father. We learn of his epiphany with the Burning Bush and God’s instructions plan to redeem B’nai Yisroel from slavery and Moshe’s role in the redemptive process.
Considering, that this is a completely new Sefer, a new Book of the Torah, and that dominant theme of this new book is redemption from slavery and the national revelation at Mt. Sinai, why should the text and for that matter, the Parsha begin: V’Eilah Shmot  B’nai Yisroel Ha’Baim Mitzrayaima Eit Yaakov Ish U’Veito Ba’u- And these are the name of the Children of Israel who were coming to Egypt with Jacob, each man and his household came, Reuven Shimon, Levi, Yehuda; Issachar, Zebulun , and Benjamin; Dan Naphtali; Gad and Asher. We don’t normally begin a new book with conjunction, especially the conjunction “And”.  Instead of beginning the Parsha and the Book of Shmot with Eilah (These), the Parsha begins with V’Eilah (And these). Also, we know, based upon the conclusion of the previous book, Sefer Breishit, that the sons, along with Jacob, arrived in Egypt decades before (Gen. 46:8-30). Why do these opening verses repeat the concluding verses of the previous book? RaMBaN and R’ Bachya explain that the conjunction which begins the Parsha purposefully connects this new book to the previous book.  “B’nai Yisroel”, the term now used for the extended tribe owe their existence and their future existence to V’Eilah –“and these”…. these sons of Jacob, these sons who were “with Jacob” in his descent into Egypt. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (19th Cent. Germany) explains that these twelve sons and their resulting twelve tribal families were intimately attached to Jacob, and this was the secret of Israel’s strength and survival in Egypt. Although each son had his own family, he remained connected and united with Jacob. Implicit to these opening versus we understand that the secret to B’nai Yisroel’s survival in Egypt as slaves was the strength of their connection to the teachings of their ancestors: Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov.
The names explicitly mentioned, Jacob and his son’s, stood for something. Implicitly, these names stood for and symbolized a covenantal relationship with God. These names stood for inheriting a land, as well as making a great name for itself. Our children seemed to understand the importance of names.  Names have meaning. If the meaning is removed then the name becomes irrelevant and soon forgotten.  As we continued to discuss the recent USY decision and change in the dating policy, each one of our children reached the logical conclusion that their mom and I, and a generation of USY’ers sadly reached as well. It’s tough for a movement to have an identity if it doesn’t stand for something, and it is certainly hard to inspire people to join a movement when the movement is afraid to clearly stand for something. As our discussion finally drew to a close, my wife and I were amazed that a 14, 12, and 10 year old understood the importance of remaining connected to a sacred tradition as well as the importance of making responsible choices.
Rav Yitz    

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