The start of the new book of Exodus begins for us this Shabbat, the first of the Gregorian year. Visiting the Marina Abramovic exhibition at the Royal Academy before it closed last week I loved her description of living; Every day we move without thinking through a series of thresholds, each ushering us between different experiences and states of being….
We have no idea of how things will emerge this year, what cessation of suffering and conflict might come, what redemption there may be. We do know that we are beginning this new secular year with hope and intention. One way of living and moving through those thresholds is to pay attention. This new book of Torah begins that way as well. Leaving the success and ease of Joseph and his brothers’ life in Egypt and beginning a new threshold, a new era of hardship which brings its own focus.
(6) Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation.
(7) But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
(8) A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph….(2:11) Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinfolk and saw their burdens.
In other words Moses noticed.
Dr Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg wrote The Particulars of Rapture (2001), a sequel to her award-winning study of the Book of Genesis (1995), its title is from a line by the American poet Wallace Stevens about the “origin of change”. She wanted to find “within the particulars of rapture” how things change.
And this is where it all is.
This story of struggle and waking up to it is the Jewish leitmotif and informs us in everything. It is the the birth of the Jewish people (known as Hebrews in Torah). How we pray, how we celebrate Shabbat and festivals and most notably how we encounter others. It’s at the core of everything, this noticing. And as we pass through the threshold of another year of living here in our homes, our synagogue and our country. We have the opportunity to look as well. Not just what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, though we must, but here too, to be part of things and act accordingly.
This Saturday-Shabbat 6th January we will welcome the charismatic Rabbi Professor Larry Hoffman (see his bio here), who will teach and encourage a conversation around this story and the possibility of redemption in it and for ourselves. We may never have needed it so much.
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