Commentary on Parshat Shemot
by Shaul Judelman, Yeshivat Bat Ayin/Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo
In the Jewish guides to prayer, there is a component that is more important than anything elseâ€¦ The connection of redemption to prayerâ€¦ In the liturgy this means that the last words out loud a Jew says before entering their holy of holies- is â€œBlessed You Are- Who has Redeemed Israelâ€¦ As these words-and this consciousness fade off the lips of our mouth- our eyes close and we enter the intimate dialogue and pleadings of silent prayer. This teaching-that real prayer only comes from a connection to the place of redemptive change is found in our story of redemption from Egypt- in what is one of the most powerful transitions in the Torahâ€¦
This weeks Torah reading tells the story of how we came to exile and slaveryâ€¦After we became settled in Egypt, and our population started tremendously growing- â€And there arose a new king upon Egypt, who did not know Josef.â€ Josef, whose name hints to Moreness, the ability to add, and was himself the dreamer. To dream, is to think of what more could be- for myself, for my family, for the worldâ€¦Dreamers are open to the possibility that all could change. Yet the new king-was the king of over newness (from R. Yitzchak Ginsburg), â€œwho didnâ€™t know Josefâ€. Weâ€™ve already learned Josefâ€™s power to get out of jail through his dreams. Slavery and subjugation are enabled by the elimination of options and cause for rebellion. In a sense, by setting up a society so established- the original pyramid scheme-he closed off the chances of dreamers and newness from entering life. Egypts economy is metaphored by a horse and rider (from R Motti Alon)- each person serving that one above them- and receiving in exchange all that they need- all four food groups- the basic standard of existence guaranteed for all. So why would one think to change when if you look at the material conditions-you have all you need. By keeping our heads to the grindstone- we will not find the source of redemption that so many parts of our life need. But from where comes that space for a More? A brighter tomorrow?
Rashi (a commentator on the Torah) explains that Pharoah decreed against the male children to be thrown into the river. A child is a birth of newness- with a new vision, pure of the old paradigms a true source of redemption. Thatâ€™s what Pharoahs astrologer told him, that the redeemer would come from a male child. The Hebrew word Zachar (male) also means memory. If a slave remembers their free past- they become ripe for rebellion. When we connect back to our spiritual roots, it empowers our souls to writhe and seek freedom in our present surroundings. This has been true for all peoples- African-Americans seeking Roots, Native Americans and no less so for any one of us today. Memory is our link to our freedom, because where weâ€™re going is a dreamy combination of where weâ€™re lost and where weâ€™ve been.
This is the memory we must awaken before prayer. As our slave existence was once totally broken and changed in Egypt, thus in my present subjuagations can shine a redemptive light.
And the Children of Israel were languishing in slavery- disconnected from the sources of redemption- even rebellion was not on their horizon. (Ex. 2:23) â€œThen in the arduor of those long days, died the king of sufferation- and the Children of Israel groaned from their slavery, and they cried out. And their screams rose to God from their slavery. And God heard their outpouring and he Remembered His covenant- of Avraham, of Isaak and of Jacob. And God saw the Children of Israel- and He knew.â€
Wow, probably my favorite passage in Torahâ€¦ There are there are four incredible untranslatable words for prayer. When we were offered that moment of breath from the death of the king- we managed to inhale and exhale a groan from our suffering. We had a space to remember that which were- and that which we are notâ€¦ A free person, a divine soul, a prince of the king, a source of light for others, able to change ourselves. Offer a deep breath and space for these Facts to sink into our mindâ€¦ And then- cry out â€“for the places of my suffering are where these tenets are forgotten. Prayer is a cry over the disparity between the hidden good and how weâ€™re seeing our current situation. Redemption is that consciousness being re-membered into today. Rebbe Nachman of Breslav talks of the cries of birth. The coming to scream about the how things are stuck births the consciousness that will let the rest follow. By awakening how weâ€™ve broken through in the past- the shackles of today are loosened enough to let us cry for more, to access the dreams that free a caged birdâ€¦.
Regarding my sources: Our tradition teaches that by saying something in the name of who it was heard from, we bring redemption to the world. It is my hope and prayer that these sharings will help you, me us and everyone with breaking through to the next place- Lord knows weâ€™re suffering long and hard in this here time.
Addendum: Not but yourself can free your mind. Emancipateâ€¦
Prayer is a powerful action. Only you know the amount of pressure you will suffer through before you cry out. Since the slavery is held by keeping us down, unaware of anything else, the process through which that awareness comes to thought, understanding and then speech- is in itself a redemption. In the manner in which Silence is approval, to drag the darkness out of the closets and turn to God in prayer- speaking out the problem and demanding betterment. â€œI canâ€™t help you unless you ask.â€
When I hear myself addressing the wrongs and calling for the healing- that is a powerful voice speaking out of what was just before a dark silence. Your words are true lights, holding in them potentials for a new creation. Thatâ€™s why the Jewish prayer is preceeded for an asking for â€œGod- please open my lips, that my mouth will tell your praise.â€ So we can start co-creating a better place.