|This week we begin reading the 2nd book of the Torah. The book of Exodus describes for us the horrors of Egypt, which the Israelites faced for the duration of their time of exile in Egypt. In Jeremiah 11, God describes Egypt as an “iron furnace” from which He brought the Israelites out. Egypt means “narrows straights or constriction,” which is a good description of the experiences of the Israelites after the death of Joseph and his brothers. Egypt kept Israel constricted from becoming who they were destined to become as a nation. It says in Exodus 1:8,“Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Now, whether this new king truly had no knowledge of Joseph (e.g. a new dynasty) or this Pharaoh just didn’t care about what Joseph had done for Egypt, either way, the Hebrews favor in the land of their exile had come to and end. This new king tells his people,“Havah Nit’chakma Lo— Come, let us deal shrewdly with [the Hebrews].” However, the word “nit’chakma—let us deal shrewdly” comes from the root word “chochma” which means “wisdom.” This new king was telling his subjects “let us deal wisely with [the Hebrews].”In other words, “let us outsmart them.” The problem is that the word “chochma” that this new king uses is the same word founds in Proverbs 9:10 which says,“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of chochma—wisdom.”One cannot outsmart the Creator of wisdom. Without God a person is no better than “Worldly Wiseman” from John Bunyan’s book “The Pilgrims Progress.” A person may be shrewd, cunning, clever and cutthroat, but wisdom comes only from fearing God. At first, it may seem as though this new king is getting his way, however, in the end God tells Pharaoh, “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power [to] you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth…[For God] saved [Israel] for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known…He saved them from the hand of him who hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their enemies; there was not one of them left.” (Exodus 9 & Psalm 116) Those who feared God were brought out of Egyptian slavery in triumph while those who had attempted to outsmart the Inventor of “smartness” were drowned because of their unbelief and arrogance. But for our observation today, we’re are still at the beginning of the Hebrew’s enslavement. Which leads me to ask the question, how did the nation of Israel become slaves? The Baal HaTurim writes in his commentary that “the descendants of Ephrayim and Menashe (Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons) possessed considerable influence in the highest governmental circles.” How did this people of considerable influence come to be the slaves and lackeys doing the bidding of the Pharaoh of Egypt? The Midrash explains how it happened. Pharaoh proposed a communal building project inviting everyone to join in. “Pharaoh [himself] set the example by joining the labor force to symbolize that everyone must help Egypt in its time of need. Once the Jewish volunteers were mobilized – figuratively donning their own chains – it was an easy next step to enslave them…Pharaoh’s treacherous solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ was to deceive the Jews into showing their patriotism by building cities.” (The Stone Edition Chumash) Pharaoh’s goal however wasn’t free slave labor; it was one of the first of its kind in attempted racial extermination.
|“Arbeit Macht Frei—Work makes one free” was the sign, which hung over the barbaric German Death camp of Auschwitz during WWII. Somewhere between 1.1-1.5 million people, close to 90% being Jews, were horrifically murdered in this “Work Camp.” This idea of “extermination by work” was Pharaoh’s plan of genocide. Tax them, enslave them, murder their babies, and finally, completely eradicate the Jewish race; this was Pharaoh’s “Final Solution.” I find Pharaoh’s words to his people very interesting, in that he says, “let us deal shrewdly with [the Hebrews], lest they multiply, and…in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” What is strange about Pharaoh’s concern here? He is worried that the Israelites “go up out of the land.” Why would he be worried that the nation of Israel leaves Egypt? I would understand if he were worried that Israel might overthrow his rule, or, that the Israelites would join with Egypt’s enemies and so defeat them. But why would he be concerned with the idea that the Israelites might leave Egypt? While there are probably many reasons, I would like to write about 2 that come to mind. The first idea is that Pharaoh recognized that the economy of Egypt was a slave economy. Without slaves, there is no Egypt. He needed the Israelites to continue their work to reinforce and sustain his kingdom. At the same time however, though he found the Hebrews useful to his building projects, he hated them with vehemence and wanted to see them completely eradicated as a nation. He couldn’t decide which tactic-approach to take, so he attempted to accomplish both using “cruel bondage” and infanticide. He didn’t want the Israelites to leave Egypt for 2 reasons. He wanted them as slaves, and he wanted them dead. How does this apply to us and what does it mean for us today? I find this idea of slavery and death expressed well in a song called “Souljahz Don’t Stop.” One of the lines of the song says, “The devil will beat you, meet you and greet you. Half way trying to hold you up because he needs you…” The devil hates us. He beats and mistreats, wants God’s people dead on the streets. Yet, he recognizes he needs us. Just as it was in Pharaoh’s time – without slaves there is no Egypt – so too, without slaves, the authority of the devil is non-existent. Each one of us experiences our own mini-exodus from bondage when we repent of sin and turn to God. Now is the time to fully throw off the shackles of immorality, idolatry, adultery, despair and doubt. It is time to “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8) In verses 12-13 of Exodus 1 it says that “ the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves.” There are two words in these verses, which I would like to expound upon. The first is the word “dread” which comes from the Hebrew root word “Kutz” and can be literally translated as “to loathe, abhor, or be disgusted with.” The second word is the word “rigor” which in these verses is the Hebrew word “B’farech” which can be translated literally as “to break apart.” Some translations also translate these words as “crushing hardness.” Therefore, we could technically read these verses as saying “ the Egyptians were disgusted with the people of Israel. So with crushing hardness they made the people of Israel work as slaves.” The Stone Edition Chumash writes concerning the word “Kutz–Disgust” that “As the Jews increased (in population size), Egypt’s attitude changed from fear to hatred, with the result that the forced labor was intended less to be productive than to break them (the Israelites) in body and spirit; everything was designed to be ‘B’farech —with crushing hardness.” With passing time the Egyptians became less concerned with production and more concerned with breaking the will and spirit of the nation of Israel. However, Rebbe Nachman, in his commentary on the Torah states that the word “B’farech—Rigor” “can also be read as bePeh Rakh (with a soft mouth)—with a smooth-talking, convincing argument…Pharaoh enticed the Jews.” Rebbe Nachman is saying that perhaps Pharaoh kept the Israelites enslaved with smooth words rather than rigorous slavery. Think about Numbers 11 when the children of Israel complain against God and say, “We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” The Israelites were basically telling God that they much preferred Egyptian slavery over the freedom He had given them. Though the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt probably falls somewhere in the between Pharaohs smooth words and the crushing hardness of their experience in Egypt, it is shocking that they should even remember Egypt as a semi-wonderful place. The Ramban writes of this verse that “Fish…was but a nostalgic memory…for in the Wilderness they had no access to fish.” It is funny that all the food they mention in this verse is not something that could really be considered a delicacy. They are nostalgically thinking back on the cheap, mass-produced staples of the Egyptian Mediterranean diet as their “comfort food.” There was nothing special about the food they had in Egypt, but it was their ‘normal fare’ and it was free! The commentator Rashi writes that “the food in Egypt was free in the sense that it came without any obligation to perform mitzvos (the commandments of Torah).” Unfortunately most people choose security over freedom. The irony is that freedom under God’s banner is the most secure place to be! It just doesn’t generally feel like the most secure situation, because God asks that we trust Him completely with everything. Most would rather “feel” secure than truly be secure. Which is why following God is more than simply a feeling. If you come to God because of a feeling, then you will probably leave Him for a feeling.
|In chapter 3 of this portion, God meets Moses at the burning bush and tells him, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…” God tells Moses “Ki Yadati—For I Know their sufferings.” The Hebrew word “Yadati” comes from the root word “Yada” which means to intimately know or be acquainted with. God heard the cry of His people and responded, because He personally felt their suffering. In fact, not only did He know their suffering; He was the one going down to deliver the Israelites out from bondage. Moses was his spokesman. But He was the One descending into exile in order to redeem His people. This portion perfectly describes the mission and accomplishment of Yeshua, our Master. In Numbers Rabbah it is written, “R. Berekiah in the name of R. Levi said: Like the first redeemer was, so will the final redeemer be.” Who was the first redeemer? Moses. Who is the final redeemer? The Messiah. As we read in the Gospel of Matthew, it is written that Yeshua “will save His people from their sins.” Yeshua personally descended into this world’s exile, experienced the suffering of His people and now makes intercession for us all as the Tzaddik (Righteous Individual) for who He is. It wasn’t just a “feeling” for Him. He became intimately acquainted with the suffering and hurt of the world and emerged victorious, showing us the pathway and enabling us to walk just as He walked!
When God commissions Moses to deliver Israel, Moses asks God “What is Your Name?” What was God’s response? He reveals His holy Name to Moses as “Ehy-eh Asher Ehy-eh” which is commonly translated as “I Am Who I Am.” However, it may be better translated as “I Will Be Who I Will Be.”
The 3 Hebrew words that God uses here are in the future tense. Why is this important and what does it mean for us? It means that even if we do not merit to be redeemed now in our current state, God looks into the future and sees our potential, our good deeds and our destiny. He looks into the future and sees us for who we were created to be and this is how He views us already! God has called us all out of darkness—out of bondage to sin and slaves to the devil—to a life of freedom, in order that we might wave the banner of God’s liberating freedom for the entire world to see!
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,