Are We Still Limited by our Past?
Tevet 21 5780
In Parashat Shemot, the nation of Israel is being developed, beginning with the circumstances that led to the “yetziah יציאה – the exodus” from Egypt. The answer to the question “why did Israel need to be born as a nation from the womb of slavery?” would slowly emerge. Israel was received by a cordial king who treated the people well, gave them the best of land in which to keep their flocks, where they were fruitful and multiplied. In Exodus 1:7 the word used is ַyishretzu described as “swarmed” in Bereshit (Gen.1:20) which gives us an indication that they “multiplied like rabbits”
We tend to exalt the people of Israel who lived at that time, but in truth, they had descended to the depths. They never asked the Creator to liberate them, rather He was the one who heard their cries and sent Moshe to be their redeemer. Moshe was an Israelite who had been educated in the high courts of Egypt, and although he was considered blue blood, he never forgot who he was. At the age of eighty, he was called for service, but he didn’t want to get involved with these people again. He became disillusioned when he had tried to save his Hebrew brothers from the Egyptian man abusing them forty years earlier, and then the next day he tried to separate them from fighting, and they accused him of trying to kill them like the Egyptian. At that moment, he needed to flee for his life and was now unwilling to return to his people who had betrayed him. Now Moshe had an encounter with the Creator at the burning bush and from the very beginning, he was a reluctant leader who sensed that this burden was too heavy for him.
The people of Israel, while living in Egypt, had been slowly distancing themselves from the God of their fathers. Isolated within the area of Goshen, they enjoyed a time of prosperity and growth, however, the longer they remained in Egypt, the more they assimilated and were forgetting their Creator. They would need a wake-up call. Knowing that it was time for them to leave Egypt, the Creator began to make their lives unbearable. That was when a new Pharaoh arose who “did not know” Joseph. Not to be taken literally, this meant that he refused to acknowledge what Joseph had done for Egypt. Pharaoh said that this “swarming” people would join the enemy to fight against him and, if you read carefully, he said that Israel would then leave Egypt. The Pharaoh preferred to keep exploiting his Israelite slaves. The problem is that we are often resigned and accept our circumstances because we simply don’t know “who we are!” The world sells us a lie when they tell us that someone above our stations can arrange our lives better than we can. Today we call it socialism, liberalism, religion, whatever and prefer to allow someone else to do our thinking for us. I, as your rabbi am teaching you to think for yourselves. We alone are responsible for our actions. The Israelites preferred to depend more upon the Pharaoh than upon the God of their fathers or upon themselves.
How many of us know who we are and where we come from? How many of us depend upon others for our identity? When that happens, we curtail our bechirah chofshit, free will. When we are at the place in our lives when we want to give up, that is when the Creator sends a shockwave of events into our lives to recharge our batteries. We are awakened out of our lethargy and look back wondering what we have been doing. That’s when the transformation takes place. What is holding you back from being who you are meant to be? What is limiting you? Even Moshe didn’t want to be the leader of this defeated nation. He was constantly being blamed for their circumstances. Moshe went to complain to יהוה Yud Heh Vav Heh, which leads me to examine this name according to the Torah. Our sages say that we are prohibited from pronouncing this Name even though there are many references which tell us to pronounce it, as is. The Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) tells us to make a fence (Seyag – סְיָיג) around the Torah, which for our sages are the 613 commandments (Teryag – תרי”ג) to protect us from breaking them. In this community, we read aloud the Ten Commandments every Shabbat. The third commandment states: “You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain – לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא”. It doesn’t say you shall not pronounce His Name. That is what happens when men place themselves higher than the Creator. Pharaoh had become greater to the people of Israel than the Creator and they would need to be cleansed from all their idolatry.
How many of us are being choked by all the trash that we have accumulated from our pasts? We need a spiritual aspirator. Over the next forty years, God would use Moshe to wean the people away from idolatry, little by little. We too need to go through this process. How many of us allow our traditions, superstitions, and regulations of man to overrule the Creator’s will for our lives? How much Egypt do we still have within us which we need to regurgitate? It is never too late to deal with the fears of our past. Over these next weeks, let us journey together through the book of Shemot and seek out principles that will allow us to become our true selves.