#blogExodus – Leaving


#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which means the Narrow Place. It’s also the same root as the word for labour pains. Birth imagery has been associated with Passover from the beginning, with the explicit mention of the month of Aviv, or spring in the Torah. The Sages refer to the splitting of the Red Sea as “kri’ah”, or tearing, which is an odd word to use for a body of water. They liken it explicitly to the opening of the birth canal to allow the passage of a child’s head.

There is no question that leaving Egypt was the birth of the Israelite people. When they went down there, 430 years earlier, they were an extended family – upon leaving, they were a nation. A nation of slaves, with no sense of personal responsibility or vision of the future. In other words, aside from Moses, who did not grow up as a slave, they suffered from a profound lack of imagination – they could not see themselves in any other setting. I experienced this same narrowness of vision among teenagers from Winnipeg’s West End – when I was teaching at a school in that part of town, I happened to mention New York City and talked about something they should see or do if they ever went there. A 15 year old boy looked at me and said, “Why would I go to New York?” So sad. This was five years ago and I hope, although of course I do not know, that that boy learned that there can be a place for him in that wonderful world out there.

The Israelites had a long journey in the wilderness before them, in which their identity as a free people, with vision, dreams and stories, would be forged. But before they could embark on this journey, they had to experience the separation, the leaving of the Narrow Place.

All births are painful – for the mother who is left behind, for the newborn blinking in the harsh light. There is sure to be fear, and sometimes there is regret. But they can also be joyous and full of promise and hope. Courage, love and support are necessary components of the journey as we face the fear of the unknown, the pernicious voice of the Resistance.

Will you leave the Narrow Place and experience the fear, frustration and joy that come from being your own person?

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