By: Rabbi Meir Azari, Senior Rabbi of the
Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism
, Tel Aviv, and Israel
The Exodus from Egypt through Moses’s Eyes
In the heart of Parashat Bo lies the story of the people of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Over the years, so much has been written about this journey by rabbis, scholars, philosophers and even statesman. So many articles have dealt with the ten plagues in Egypt, how Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and how God instructed the Jewish people to take over Egyptian property. Other interpretations have dealt with the halachic perspective of Pesach and how this holiday has evolved to become one of the pivotal holidays in Judaism.
In addition to these perspectives, I would like to add a few words about the man, the human being, the leader that stands in the middle of the story – Moses. Take a moment to think about this old man, who had lived such a rich and full life, who had overcome so many trials and tribulations and who had withstood the power of the evil empire of Egypt. Think about this man who led a seemingly endless line of people out of Egypt and into the unknown future.
Did Moses look back? Did he understand the enormity of the moment, and the impact and influence he would have on the world to come?
This image of a line of slaves leaving Egypt would be used as a model for generations to come of people transitioning from enslavement to freedom and hope. Likewise, this story will be used by so many leaders as a historical cry for religious freedom and the pursuit of personal hope.
Looking at this line of slaves, what did Moses feel? Enlightenment? Satisfaction? Fear?
At times, the Torah does not dive deeply into the feelings of the nation’s heroes. So little is written on what was happening during this crucial moment and the emotions in the heart and the mind of this lonely leader.
Now, what did the slaves feel during these moments? Enlightenment? Satisfaction? Fear? Perhaps some among them understood that, finally, an era of oppression and slavery had ended and a new horizon was expanding in front of them.
Maybe Moses looked back and told himself, or perhaps his brother Aaron, ”
We are embarking upon a new journey. The power of hope will always overcome darkness and oppression, that tomorrow belongs to us.” Then, he must have looked back to the long line of people standing behind him with the inevitable question forming in his mind, “What will these people eat tomorrow? Where will I get water and the basic supplies for more than one million people wandering in the desert?
” Perhaps at this point his stomach was rumbling. Perhaps he was also asking himself, ”
Can I actually lead these downtrodden faithless people? Will the God that just recently made contact with me keep his promise? What will happen tomorrow and in the months to come?
Using tremendous strength, Moses does fulfill his duty and gives hope, courage and faith to these individuals who have, over the years, lost all hope. Moses renewed the Jewish people’s ability to dream. Yet this ability was not instantaneous. We see that it will take more than a generation for them to take ahold of their own destiny. It will take them more than a full generation to regain the spirit of their forefathers and foremothers.
During the forty years in which they will wander in the desert, Moses will demand that the nation of slaves deserves freedom and egalitarian opportunities to pursue happiness as free human beings. Despite Moses’s insistence, people return to him again and again saying that they prefer Egypt over freedom and responsibility. Freedom is too complicated and we are not ready for the responsibility, they argue. Even today, a significant portion of the 7 billion people inhabiting this Earth are afraid of the journey from slavery to freedom and democracy, like the slaves leaving Egypt thousands of years ago.
It was at this time that Moses created a basic law of humanity that is valid until today: that the world belongs to those who are ready to dream and to dare. The world belongs to those who are ready to be challenged, who are ready for a transitional journey to hope and freedom.
Our Reform Movement is based on this concept. It is thanks to the mothers and fathers that proceeded Moses and the prophets following Moses’s time that this journey continues into the modern era.