Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Shemot - 5776

My friends,

Last week, we completed reading the Book of Genesis, and this Shabbat we begin the book of Shemot, the Book of Exodus.

In Genesis, sibling rivalry was the theme that ran through many generations. Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, families that broke up, sometimes into life-long enemies.

In the first chapter of the Book of Shemot, we read how the original group of 70 souls who had come down to Egypt with their father Jacob (Israel) has now multiplied and become prominent and represented in all aspects of Egyptian life. There is no rivalry between the descendants of Jacob's twelve sons - they are now referred to as "Am B'nai Yisrael" - "the People of the Children of Israel." As a people they suffer together the discriminatory restrictions imposed by the new Pharaoh and his people including special taxes, labor camps, oppression, slavery and even the killing of newborns boys.

The Book of Shemot begins with the suffering of the people of Israel, but soon there is G-d's intervention by sending Moses, the leader who will liberate the slaves, give them the Torah and lead them to the Promised Land. The talk and demand for freedom by the Israelites is turned down by the Egyptian masters who enact harsher measures to oppress the slaves even more. Moses asks the people for patience, explaining that redemption is on the way.

The Book of Shemot is called the Book of Exodus because, in the end, liberation does come and the multitude of the former slaves exit in victory and exaltation. This story has been an inspiration to countless peoples and individuals throughout the centuries, fighting slavery and discrimination.

For the people of Israel, the struggle for freedom in modern times has been even worse than the 400-year slavery in Egypt. For the past two thousand years the Children of Israel have experienced discrimination, oppression, slavery, Inquisitions, exiles, concentration and death camps, calamities worse than anything that our ancestors could have endured in Egypt.

With the return to the Promised Land, and the building of a modern, strong and proud people in the Land of Israel, a new Exodus has taken place, but the fight for peace and freedom continues. Israel continues to face discrimination and threats from its neighbors and many anti-Israel groups throughout the world, in the form of boycotts, sanctions and divestment.

As we begin the reading of the Book of Exodus, the Book of Liberation, we need to be united and stand with Israel in fighting all discriminatory practices against the Jewish State.

Shabbat Shalom,