We Are an Exodus People

This sheet on Exodus 1 was written by Sharon Brous for 929 and can also be found here

The Torah begins in "gan eden" — the Garden of Eden, a place of pure perfection in which there is no suffering, no longing, no loss. But from the height of physical and spiritual fulfillment, the Book of Genesis goes on to narrate one story after another of descent and exile. It is a book of expulsion, punishment, and global destruction, of conflict within families and conflict between nations. Genesis concludes with the Israelite people’s descent into Egypt, setting the stage for generations of slavery and suffering.

But our story doesn’t end with the Book of Genesis. We immediately turn to Exodus, a book that begins with the Israelites thrust into slavery, degraded, humiliated and tortured. But it quickly turns to a story of miracles, of plagues and wonders, of a fiery partnership between God and humankind, rooted in holiness in time (Shabbat) and in space (mishkan, the tabernacle). In contrast to Genesis, this book tells a story of ascent, of redemption. It is a story in which— from depths of darkness— we affirm the possibility of light. A story in which the people, for generations squeezed in the narrowness of Mitzrayim, Egypt, come to embody the expansiveness of human potential. A light unto the nations— a symbol for all time of the impossible made possible.

It is the God of Exodus who teaches humankind to respond to injustice with hope, courage and determination. And it is the story of the Exodus that offers the most potent and undeniable counter-testimony to the reality of our world. Just when the darkness seems to eclipse any light, just when we’re spent, ready to succumb to the triumph of evil, we’re called to remember the great dream that was born with the writing of this epic story.

Because the Jewish people ultimately is not a Genesis people. We are an Exodus people.

The dream of the Exodus—with its promise that the trajectory of our lives is from darkness to light, grief to celebration, degradation to dignity— has kept the Jewish people alive. It has given us the strength to survive years of scarcity and suffering, and the direction to live with gratitude and meaning in the years of abundance and blessing. Rav Kook taught that the whole world stands on our ability to dream great dreams. This story reminds us that our very survival rests on our ability to dream bold, impossible dreams.

(א) וְאֵ֗לֶּה שְׁמוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַבָּאִ֖ים מִצְרָ֑יְמָה אֵ֣ת יַעֲקֹ֔ב אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵית֖וֹ בָּֽאוּ׃
(1) These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household:

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