“God heard their moaning and God remembered His covenant
with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. “(Exodus 2:24)
Parashat Sh’mot is the first parasha (portion) in the Book of Sh’mot, known in English as Exodus (an abbreviation of the Greek, Exodus Aegyptous.) It establishes continuity with the end of the Book of Genesis by repeating the names of the Children of Israel who go down to Egypt. The parasha then succinctly describes their descent into oppression and slavery. This unexpected reversal of fortune drives the classic commentators to comb the text for explanations.
When Pharoah appeals to his people, saying,” …Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.” (Exodus 1:9) he separates the nation into two groups: “them” versus “us.” Creating an “other” is usually a prelude to exclusion and discrimination. Ohr Ha-chaim (Chaim ben Moses ibn Attar (1696-1743); Moroccan Talmudist, Kabbalist, and commentator) adds a twist; he claims mimenu, (Hebrew for “for us”) can also mean “from us.” Not only are the Israelites separated out from the Egyptians; Phaorah incites hatred by accusing the Israelites of prospering “off the backs” of the Egyptians. This is why the parasha uses the present tense to describe the Israelite’s descent to Egypt (Exodus 1:1). Despite their living in Egypt for three generations already and despite their having contributed mightily to the country’s economy, Pharoah views them as strangers with no shared history or memory (Exodus Rabbah 1:4).
Sh’mot shows the question of “how long till you belong?” is a current issue with ancient roots. Every JCC has newcomers. But the JCC Movement’s ethos of welcome creates diverse and pluralistic communities based on combination, not separation.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom