This Shabbat we begin the book of Exodus and our Jewish story moves from one of a family’s struggle to come to grips with its legacy of having a particular relationship with God to the emergence of the Jewish people. In its narrative sweep, it is simultaneously the story of the Jewish people’s development of a national consciousness–from the crucible of slavery and liberation–and the development of one person’s, Moses, Jewish identity and commitment to his people.
Our sages taught that the Jewish people were worthy of liberation because they never forgot their Hebrew names or their native language. Despite all their suffering during slavery, the Israelites remained true to their core identity. We have seen this in our own recent history. Despite centuries of oppression culminating in the Holocaust, we have seen a renaissance of Jewish life with a thriving American Jewish community and the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the State of Israel.
Moses, on the other hand, can represent us. Raised in a non-Jewish environment, in Pharaoh’s household, in wealth and comfort, nonetheless he was pulled toward his people and rose to become their leader and their moral compass.
Many of us are like Moses — raised in a powerful and attractive non-Jewish environment we find ourselves called to remain true to our people and our traditions and to continue to grow in our knowledge, our practice, and our commitment to Jewish values.
May we continue to follow the examples of our history, strengthen our Jewish ways and bring them to the wider world.