Food For the Soul
I Shall Be
In the Parsha Shemot (Exodus 1:1–6:1) Moses makes his dramatic appearance on the Biblical scene. He tries to stop the persecution of his brethren, receives a death sentence for his troubles, and is forced to flee to Midian where he marries Zipporah and tends the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Then, at the burning bush, comes his first divine revelation. G-d calls upon the shepherd to go back to Egypt and redeem his people. The mission is nothing less than to face up to the Pharaoh himself and deliver the L-rd’s famous stirring message: Let My People Go!
In characteristic humility, Moses is a most reluctant leader. He seems to be looking for all sorts of reasons as to why he is unworthy of the task. At one point, he asks the Almighty, “Who shall I say sent me? What is Your name?” Now we are familiar with many names that G-d goes by, but the one G-d now gives Moses is puzzling and enigmatic, mysterious and mystical “I shall be as I shall be.” Strange name for a Supreme Being.
Many commentaries expound on the possible interpretations of this most unusual name. Here is one very powerful explanation. The significance of this name is that it is posed in the future tense. “I shall be as I shall be.” Moses was asking the ultimate existential question. How do I call You, G-d? “What is Your name,” means how are You to be identified, known, understood? How can finite, mortal man come to know the Infinite Being?
And G-d’s answer is, “I shall be as I shall be” — future tense. You want to know me, Moses? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. We cannot necessarily understand G-d by what has happened in the past. Nor, even, in the present. In the here and now, when we stare life and its ambiguities in the face, we experience tremendous difficulty in our vain attempts to grasp the Almighty’s vision or perceive His vast eternal plan.
One day, somewhere down the line, in the future, He will make Himself known to us. Only then will we come to really know Him and His inscrutable ways. We look forward with eager anticipation to that awesome day when the Almighty’s great name will be known and understood, and we will see with our own eyes of flesh that G-d is good and His ways are just. May it be speedily in our day.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Shabbat commemorates the Exodus
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were not permitted to cease working for even a moment. Upon their exodus, G-d commanded them to refrain from working one day a week to remind them of their freedom. In the Friday night Kiddush, we mention this element of Shabbat. “[The Sabbath] is the first to be called holy and a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt (zecher l’yetziat mitzrayim).”
From an article by Rabbi Leibel Gniwisch
Mind Over Matter
A message of hope
When the blackness seems overpowering, when the tedious monotony is driving us to the brink of insanity, we can take comfort in the realization that nothing in our world remains static. Not our present challenges. Nor who we are. You, your life and your circumstances are an integral part of G-d’s cosmic plan, emerging anew every instance. The present is only what we have brought from our pasts, and what we will use to forge into our immediate futures. There is no static “is.” There is only what we were—and most importantly, what we choose to become.
From an article by Chana Weinberg
Take us out of exile!
The Israelites were unable to endure the harsh galut (exile) of Egypt and cried out unto G-d to redeem them from it. Indeed, G-d heard their cry and sent Moses to save them. Likewise with our present galut: When we cry out, “Take us out of the galut and bring about the redemption,” the Almighty will surely hear our cry and redeem us. Moreover, our mere being in a state of readiness to call upon G-d is already enough for Him to respond, as it is written, “Before they call, I shall answer, and while they yet speak I shall hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Freud’s greatest Freudian slip
It was Freud’s greatest Freudian slip, and for some reason his commentators, at least those I’ve read, haven’t noticed it. It appears in his book, Moses and Monotheism, a strange work if ever there was one. It was published in 1939, by which time Freud had taken refuge in Britain. Had he stayed in Vienna, heaven knows what humiliations he would have suffered before being murdered along with his fellow Jews. For some reason, at this desperate time, Freud wrote a book (he originally described it as a “historical novel”) in which he tried to prove that Moses was an Egyptian. There have been many speculations as to why he wrote it, and I have no wish to add to their number. Early on in the book, though, there is a most curious episode. Freud notes that several scholars have identified a common theme in stories about the childhood of heroes. The hero’s birth is fraught with danger. As a baby, he is exposed to the elements in a way that would normally lead to death—sometimes by being placed in a box and thrown into the water. The child is rescued and brought up by adoptive parents, and eventually he discovers his true identity. It is a story told about Sargon, Gilgamesh, Oedipus, Romulus and many others. It is also the story of Moses.
At this point, however, Freud notes that in one respect the story of Moses isn’t like the others at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. In the conventional story the hero’s adoptive parents are humble, ordinary people. Eventually he discovers that he is actually of royal blood, a prince. In the Moses story, the reverse is the case. It is his adoptive family that is royal. He is brought up by the daughter of Pharaoh. His true identity, he discovers, is that he belongs, by birth, to a nation of slaves.
Freud saw this and then failed to see what it meant. Instead he changed tack and concluded that the story is a fabrication designed to conceal the fact that Moses was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; he really was a prince of Egypt. What Freud failed to realize is that the story of Moses is not a myth but an anti-myth. It takes a myth and turns it upside down. Its message is simple and revolutionary. True royalty, the Bible suggests, is the opposite of our conventional wisdom. It isn’t privilege and wealth, splendor and palaces. It’s moral courage. Moses, in discovering that he is the child of slaves, finds greatness. It’s not power that matters, but the fight for justice and freedom. Had Moses been an Egyptian prince, he would have been eminently forgettable. Only by being true to his people and to G-d did he become a hero.
Freud had mixed feelings about his own identity. He admired Jews but was tone-deaf to the music of Judaism. That is why, I suspect, he failed to see that he had come face to face with one of the most powerful moral truths the Bible ever taught. Those whom the world despises, G-d loves. A child of slaves can be greater than a prince. G-d’s standards are not power and privilege. They are about recognizing G-d’s image in the weak, the powerless, the afflicted, the suffering, and fighting for their cause. What a message of courage Freud might have sent his people in that dark night! Let us at least see what he did not, that the story of Moses is one of the great narratives of hope in the literature of mankind.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks