#blogExodus – Slavery

#blogExodus prompts

Rabbi Phyllis Sommer’s #blogExodus prompts

The experience of slavery is a huge one in the Jewish consciousness. It may be overshadowed by the Holocaust in modern times, but it was formative of our thinking back in the times of the Torah and the Mishna, when most of our laws, philosophy and forms of prayer were solidified.

The Torah reminds us numerous times that we were slaves in Egypt, and connects that experience to many commandments – most significantly, social justice for the poor and downtrodden, connecting our experience as “strangers in the Land of Egypt” with the need for empathy with the stranger in our midst.

Interestingly, it is also used as a direct rationale for mandating a day of rest each week. We are given the commandment for Shabbat twice – once as a reminder of creation, when G-d rested on the seventh day, and we should also. But when Moses reminds the Israelites of this commandment in his parting speech, he gives a different reason:

וְזָכַרְתָּ, כִּי עֶבֶד הָיִיתָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֹּצִאֲךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ מִשָּׁם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה; עַל-כֵּן, צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לַעֲשׂוֹת, אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת

And thou shalt remember that thou was a servant in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a big fan of Shabbat, because it is my day of liberation. I am free of my everyday obligations (although for some reason these people in my house still expect to be fed, even on Shabbat). I don’t need to drive anyone anywhere. Even my FOMO takes a break as my beloved iPhone (they don’t call it a cell phone for nothing!) gets turned off and put away. I can socialise, pray, sleep, read books or the newspaper, and generally recharge my soul. The most amazing conversations take place in my house on Shabbat, because we are all physically in one another’s presence, and not virtually somewhere else.

I should make it clear that I am not seriously comparing my comfortable, if frenetic, lifestyle with real slavery. Unfortunately there is still too much of that in our world. I know that these are very much first world problems. Still, the burdens that we bear can be heavy upon us, and it is good to know that we have been given a way to lay them down once a week, should we so choose. Our ancestors in Egypt did not have that luxury.

What choices do you make to ease your burdens?

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