Ron Wexler, Weekly Newsletter
December 28th, 2007
"Shabbat Shalom" is a weekly message, sent on Friday, that contains very short commentaries on the portion of the Bible that is read in synagogues on the corresponding Sabbath services.
Reading portion is from Exodus 1:1 - 6:1
And these are the names. The book of Exodus begins with the conjunction in order to relate it to the concluding chapters of Genesis. There, Jacob''s family begins the process of exile by descending to Egypt, and here, the narrative of the exile is developed until it ends up with the blaze of miracles that culminated in the Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Thus, the opening phrases of our verse and of Genesis are identical—the earlier verse introduces the exile—this one picks up the thread of the narrative and continues.
The sages note that the passage in Genesis listed the names of all those who came to Egypt, including Jacob''s grandchildren, whereas our passage lists only his sons. In the context of resisting the corruptive atmosphere of Egypt and preserving the moral and spiritual grandeur of Jacobs family. His sons were equal to the ask because they kept the nation on the high level set for it by Jacob, and the slavery did not begin as long as they were alive. His grandchildren, however, were not able to maintain the spiritual grandeur of their forebears, so they are not honored by being named here. Nevertheless, their merit was great enough to prevent the onset of the enslavement as long as they were alive.
The sages explain that the names of tribal ancestors had been mentioned in their lifetime and they are repeated here as they pass from the scene. They are likened to the stars, which God brings out and brings in by number and by name. He counts and enumerates when they come out and again when they are "gathered in." This shows that the forefathers, like the stars, are precious to God. The sages explain that the twelve tribes are compared to stars because they correspond to the twelve constellations, in that both the tribes and the constellation are composed of many individual units that complement one another. Just as the combination of people forms a tribe, the combination of tribes creates a nation.
Rabbi Bressler in his "Dvar" says that despite being set in the midst of a corrupt Egyptian society, the Jewish community was flourishing with schools, synagogues, social networks, and assimilation was virtually non-existent because they made a pact amongst themselves not to change their names, style of dress, or language. With these safeguards, they were able to keep a healthy distance. As Rabbi Shraga Simmons explains, at the beginning of this week''s Portion, (Exodus 1:1 -6:1), the tide turned and immediately after, the old generation died. The Jewish People spread throughout Egypt and the assimilation began. They dropped their Jewish customs and blended into secular society. Immediately, as verse 8 reports, the rise of anti-Semitism in Egypt. What makes this so unusual is that hatred of one group for another is typically due to what sociologists call "dislike of the unlike." The Egyptians didn''t mind as long as the Jews kept to themselves. It was once they began to resemble "regular Egyptians" that the anti-Semitism began. The dual loyalty issue had reared its ugly head. Anti-Semitism was generated with the perception that Jews have power and influence.
It''s happening again today, and as we can see from this week''s Portion, the consequences are devastating. People are apathetic and disinterested. But if you''re reading this, you are amongst those who care. We can break the cycle and turn our ship around by making the commitment to Bible education and observance. The experience is transforming. The reward is eternal.
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