Nation's Affluence in 2000 Is like Comfort of Pharaoh

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Nation's Affluence in 2000 Is like Comfort of Pharaoh


Excerpts from a Saturday Shabbat sermon by Rabbi Fred Dobb at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Rockville:

In Exodus 5:1, Moses and Aaron face Pharaoh to deliver their best-known line, "The God of Israel has said, `Let my people go.' " Yet as much chutzpah as it took our heroes to demand this, Pharaoh's answer has more chutzpah still. "Who is God, that I should listen to God's voice and let Israel go? I don't know from God, and also, I won't let Israel go." . . .

The scene is almost ironic. Here's two nice Jewish boys representing an enslaved, oppressed, downtrodden community standing in front of the region's most powerful monarch, saying "Cut it out."

We can understand Pharaoh's unwillingness to recognize that the Israelites even had a God. Consider the bitter experience of African-American slavery, where white masters refused to acknowledge that their slaves could pray to the same God of eternity, the God of liberation, as they did.

Finally, Pharaoh's answers in verses four to five show what's really at stake. "Why, Moses and Aaron, are you stirring up the people from its work? Go back to your burdens. . . . The people of the land are now many, and you would give them rest - as in Shabbat - from their burdens?" . . .

The bottom line is that Pharaoh doesn't want to give up any of his wealth. He's happy with the unjust status quo because it benefits him, and so he refuses to budge.

What do we learn from this first staking out of positions between the Israelites and Pharaoh? Remember the line most often repeated in the Torah, some 36 times? "You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, having been strangers yourself in the land of Egypt." This is a powerful comment on the activist nature of Jewish memory. We recall the experience of slavery not to mourn or memorialize, but to ensure that we never become pharaohs ourselves. Now it's odd, not knowing what would happen, to have prepared the Torah study just before the turning of the year, decade, century, millennium. Of course, the calendar shift would be uppermost in our thoughts, in large part because of all the fears of the Y2K disruptions. …

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