A coffin in Egypt closes the Book of Genesis (Genesis 50:26), and the Exodus story is launched with a basket on the Nile (Exodus 2:3). Joseph’s death, which closely follows that of his father, Jacob (Gen 49:33), brings to an end the patriarchal stories. With Exodus, the focus shifts to the Israelite story, beginning with midwives Shifrah and Puah, Yocheved (Moses’ mother), Miriam (Moses’ sister), and Pharaoh’s daughter. Our focus is thus shifted, as one book ends and the next begins, from death to birth and from stories of individual and family struggle to a communal struggle toward liberation. So, too, in the United States today, we are moving:
- from individual circles of mourning for black persons killed by police to a national movement against police brutality across the country, and
- from disjoint demands addressing various forms of racial inequity to a collective struggle for racial justice.
In addition, men dominate at the close of Genesis, while Exodus opens with women in the lead; similarly, women have been primary leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The Exodus story looks, on the face of it, like a violent and permanent parting of oppressed and oppressor peoples. But there are elements — particularly evident in watching what the women do at the beginning of the Exodus story — of the tale that can help us learn respectful coexistence.
Change of Mindset
Failure to dehumanize: The Egyptian midwives model for us at Exodus 1:15-22, using Pharaoh’s racist assumptions about the baby-popping Hebrew women to protect the Israelite community. (more on this)
Vision: Moses’ mother shows immense faith in her Egyptian neighbors, assuming that someone will rescue the child. And at least one Egyptian does rescue a child. Both women, thereby, refuse to dehumanize the other. (more on vision)
Passover is still months away (April 3-April 11, 2015). But Jews and Christians, along with others to whom the Exodus story speaks, can begin now to explore how we can use this ancient tale to change today’s realities, in our own communities and beyond. A few more “Passover Lessons” —
- “From Privilege, Activism
- Maybe We’re All Riff Raff
- Rabbis, Rome and Slaves
- “School for Freedom”
— from a 2012 crowd-sourcing.
What else can we learn?
Let’s start now to figure it out!
And let’s NOT WAIT to begin learning and acting
In the most common Torah-reading cycle, Jews read the last portion in the Book of Genesis (Hebrew: B’reishit [“in the beginning”]), called “Vayechi” (“and he lived,” Gen 47:28-50:26) this week (12/27/14-1/3/15). The new book, Exodus (Hebrew: Shemot [“names”]), begins on Shabbat afternoon, 1/3/15.
See, e.g., “How women are leading the #blacklivesmatter movement” on Al Jazeera. (story link here, with video links to come, I hope.)