Parashat Shemot (Exodus 1:1–6:1)
To our most beloved teacher, Moshe,
Who drew us out of slavery in Egypt
And brought us to the place where we could receive Torah
Who translated the sound of thunder into letters carved in stone
So that we could follow the letter trail and carry our hearts back through thunder
Who led us through forty years of wandering in the desert, through years of going nowhere,
And who stayed with us in the wilderness, so that however long we wander,
We never wander alone.
My dear teacher,
I have looked through the five books called by your name,
And I have not found it told anywhere that we thanked you . . . .
As you noted with some frustration later down the road,
We treated you at times like spoiled children
Quick to complain whenever you could not supply our immediate requests,
And quick to wonder if you were not overly comfortable with your position of power.
But I have not found it told anywhere that we thanked you . . . .
My gratitude to you is endless.
My life is immersed in all you have given
And like a fish in the ocean, I know nothing that is not water . . . .
Yet this year, like every year,
As we read the first chapters of your story
I am awash in thanks and admiration
For all that you had to go through to take on the role that you did.
For you had already stepped away from Pharaoh’s palace and riches
To find quiet in the desert herding sheep,
In God’s voice you were able to hear our suffering.
And when you looked into the thorn-bush in the desert,
You saw yourself—
An unremarkable bundle of rough edges and prickly points
And you saw that this calling would burn you like fire
But never actually burn away the harshness
Never totally transform you into something you were not,
And still, you walked towards it.
And when God’s best answer for your questioning yourself, was—
When you finish doing it, you will know that I indeed sent you,
You did not collapse into the insecurity.
And when you were afraid that people would not follow you and not trust you
God, perhaps unhelpfully, reminded you
That the staff of authority easily transforms into a poisonous snake that will kill both you and others if you do not catch it, and that the hand which is holding it can easily be corrupted and lead to the disintegration of the entire body . . . .
And though you knew your words were broken,
You were asked to believe that words, greater than yours, would appear in your mouth.
And though you may have been dragged kicking and screaming back down to Egypt,
You stood before Pharaoh
And you did what had to be done.
And we, who are forever being taken out of Egypt,
can never thank you enough.
The most we can do is try to answer our own calling when it comes,
And offer our support to those who step forward in service,
Servants of our public spheres.
Rabbi Ebn Leader is a faculty member at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.