Parashah 14: Shemot

Sefer Torah from Theresienstadt concentration ...
Sefer Torah from Theresienstadt concentration camp, now in Kiryat Tivon, Israel

Torah: Shemot (Exodus) 1:1-6:1
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) 27:6-28:13; 29:22-23
B’rit Chadashah:  Hebrews 2:9-3:15, 11:24-26

Oftentimes, we wonder why we or someone dear to us suffers for what seems to us to be no reason at all.  Why, we wonder, did our ancestors (whether physical or spiritual) have to suffer through centuries of slavery in Egypt?  Wasn’t it unfair for all of those generations who had done no sin deserving of captivity–unlike, say, Jeremiah’s generation–to be forced to accept humiliation and the lash?  And yet, the Bible assures us, God is just.  How can such a thing be just?

To even begin to apprehend the answer, we must first put aside centuries of Western individualism and take on the collectivist view of the Biblical world.  An individual simply could not survive on his own, except perhaps for a brief time as a robber.  Membership in a family, a group, a guild, a nation is what gave one his rights, protections, and purpose.  Since the life of the individual depended on the group, it was only right and natural that as the group prospered, the individual prospered, if the group was honored so was the individual, but if the group suffered or was shamed, all bore the burden of that suffering.

Why then did we suffer in slavery?  Did not our ancestors sell their own brother into slavery?  Did he not suffer for their sins and for many years at the hands of the Gentiles?  God’s justice fell not only on those who committed the sin, but through natural consequence to their children.

This was not capricious on God’s part, nor part of some mindless karmic retribution.  Rather, it served an important purpose:  It embedded an abhorrence of slavery into our people and culture.  The Torah’s commandment to release the indentured servants of Israel every seven years would not seem like robbery to the generation of the Exodus, but would seem only right and fair–so right and fair, in fact, that we hiss at the sin of our fathers in the time of Jeremiah, when they refused to release their slaves and even recaptured those whom they had released (Jer. 34)!

There was another reason, which the Holy One gave to Abraham in Genesis 15:16–it would take four hundred years for the iniquity of the Amorites, who then dwelt in the Land, to reach the point when the Holy One would be just and good to expel them in favor of another people.  It was right therefore that those who were closest of all to the Eternal should be willing to suffer lest they do injustice in His Name.

Why then did Joseph and his children suffer, though he had been the victim of his brother’s sin?  Surely the sons of Joseph could have escaped suffering with Israel by invoking their rank and connections?

They suffered with Israel for the same reason that Moses suffered, though he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace as his son:  “By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with God’s people, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a time.”  Joseph’s children must have chosen a similar course, refusing the siren call of assimilation into the Egyptian culture in return for the privilege of rank and wealth in favor of joining their brethren in chains.

In the same way, Yeshua forsook both the glories of heaven and the glories of this world (see Luke 4:5-8) in order to be made like His brothers in every way, partaking in all of our peoples’ sufferings and moreso, suffering the humiliation of the Cross so that we would not need to be humiliated by our sins in the face of our Father.

When suffering comes, we face a choice:  We can rail against the unfairness of it (though we rarely rail against the unfairness of inheriting honor or wealth, strangely).  We can seek to use whatever privileges we have to escape it.  Or, we can accept and endure it for the sake of taking part in the lives of our people and brethren, as our greatest prophet Moses and our highest King and Savior Yeshua both did.

Shalom.

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