Pack Your Bags, We’re Out of Here.

What does it really mean, to leave Egypt in our own time?

The name for Egypt in the Torah is Mitzrayim (meetz-RYE-yeem.) That means “a narrow place.” We can easily see how it got its name when we look at a map of Ancient Egypt:

Image: Map of Egypt by Jeff Dahl or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient_Egypt_map-en.svgThe green area in this map is the arable, liveable Egypt. The Nile is at its heart, source of food, source of water. Without the Nile, no one could live in Egypt. With it, it is the wealthiest, most stable empire of the ancient world. Just beyond the reach of the Nile, though, lies desert, one might even say deadly desert, on each side of it stretching for hundreds of miles.

We can learn a lot from this map, for instance: Egypt was the original “tight spot.” In a land so narrow, I imagine that there could be very few secrets, except the secrets everyone agreed to keep.

It took bravery to leave Egypt overland. Leaving meant not just leaving behind the bad stuff (like slavery) but things like food and water. The wilderness was scary, and for good reason.

So, now, thinking about our situation in the 21st century: where is Egypt, really? What are the tight spots in our own histories? Where have you felt stuck in a narrow place, with few choices and none of them easy? When and how (or were) you delivered?

At the seder, celebrate that deliverance. Or cry out for the deliverance that has not come.

Where are the tight spots in our hearts? Where are we narrow, confined in our thinking? What would it take to strike out into the unknown, to look for a more expansive way to think and feel? What would it take?

At the seder, start in Egypt. Own the narrow places in our hearts. Join hands and hearts for the courage to step into what is uncomfortable.

Where are the tight spots at our table? To whom do we say, “You are Other” and unwelcome? Who is too scary, too different, too disturbing to include at our table?

At the seder, notice who is not at the table. Who is too scary? Too different? Too disruptive? Ask, how could we make our table a little broader? How can this table leave Mitzrayim?

Passover is the time to leave Mitzrayim, not only in the past, but always, every year. Each year has a different story and different Egypts. Each year we strive to leave them, and sometimes we actually make it.

Our seders close with the famous words, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Those words can be literal: next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem. Or they can be metaphorical: Next year, we will be in a different place. We will live in a city on a hill, a bright light to the lands beyond. We will be different people, because we have been through the wilderness.

So we have a choice: Change, or stay the same. Be free, or be slaves. It’s up to us.

I wish us all a Pesach of sweetness and challenge!

 

 

Shabbat Shalom: Vayigash

Parashat Vayigash – (pronounced – vah-yee-GOSH) is a particular favorite of mine. While there are many famous aspects of this parashah, I’m going to focus on a relatively obscure bit that has always interested me.

Joseph predicted a famine and proposed a program for surviving it in Genesis 41:33-36, when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph’s plan sounded painless: appoint an administrator to gather grain during the years of plenty as a reserve against the years of famine.

Now, in Genesis 47, we see what this program actually required. Once there was no bread “in all the world” (v.13) people bought grain from Pharaoh, and as a result, all the gold and silver in Egypt came into the king’s palace. The next year people had no money, so they traded their livestock to Pharaoh for food. The following year, they traded their land. That year, Joseph ordered a massive resettlement of the population. Every Egyptian family had to leave their home and move to a new location.  Radak teaches that Joseph did this so they would understand that the new homes were a gift from Pharaoh. Rashbam, however, compares his policy to that of the evil Sennerachib in 2 Kings 18.

In the final year of famine, the Egyptians became bondsmen to Pharaoh in exchange for food and seed for the coming year. So by the end of the famine, Joseph had preserved the lives of the Egyptians but at a very high price: every commoner among them was a penniless slave living on land granted by Pharaoh, grateful to pay a heavy tax.

Harold Kushner points out in Etz Chayim that a generation later, the Egyptians would take revenge on Joseph by enslaving the Hebrews. Economic policy in the ancient world, as in ours, has both short term and long term consequences.

This d’var Torah appeared in a slightly different form in the CCAR Newsletter.

What’s Your Personal Egypt?

Image: Egyptian wall carving by NadineDoerle at Pixabay.com

Where in your life do you feel trapped?

Passover is about the Exodus, sure, but it is also a time to take a good look at the places in our lives we feel stuck, or feel trapped, or feel enslaved. The first step in leaving Egypt is to recognize that it is a place of enslavement.

If we read the Bible carefully, we can see that there were some things about Egypt that were safe and secure. After they left, the Israelites missed the food. They missed the certainties of life. They missed predictability.

But we also know that when they were in Egypt, they cried out in pain and misery.

So let me ask again: where in your life are you in pain?

Don’t worry about “what to do about it” right now. Just notice:

  • Is it internal or external to you?
  • What does it feel like?
  • Is it physical, mental, or emotional? Or is it some combination?
  • Are you alone in this or do you have fellow sufferers?
  • When does it happen?
  • When did it start?
  • Is there any end in sight?

By taking time to notice your own personal Egypt, you have taken the first step out of it.