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Vaera 5781

01/14/2021 07:59:00 PM


Shmuel Honig


2020 was, by all accounts, an extremely challenging year. Political divisiveness. Social unrest. And, of course, a pandemic. It was a time of heightened anxieties, social isolation, and excessive, untimely loss of life. It is not surprising then, that anticipation for the new year, 2021, was even more pervasive than usual. Countdowns and memes littered our Facebook feeds as the end of such a frustrating period drew nearer.

But has 2021 ushered in a new period free of the ills that have plagued us over the last twelve or so months? Hardly. The pandemic still rages on, even as distribution of vaccines has commenced; political divisions continue to expand; and threats to the foundation of our democratic society have emerged in broad daylight. It would certainly be easy to give up, lose hope, and assume the worst for the year in front of us.

At the beginning of this week’s parasha, וארא, God tells משה to reassure בני ישראל that God will indeed fulfill the covenant made with יצחק ,אברהם and יעקב, and deliver them all from slavery to freedom. But the people do not listen to משה; their spirits are low from being overworked (שמותi 6:9). Some commentators suggest that בני ישראל literally would not - could not - listen to him, because they were too consumed in their labor and exhausted by their oppression. רשבם, however, goes further. He says that the people’s faith had diminished, in contrast to their first encounter with משה. The last time they were told to expect redemption, in last week’s parasha, בני ישראל were confident, hopeful, and optimistic. But they expected immediate salvation; and now, not only had they not been redeemed as promised, but their circumstances had worsened. They no longer believed.

Can we blame them? From their point of view, all of the evidence until that point yielded no reason for hope. Furthermore, there is no textual indication that God was angered by their dismissiveness. It was a well-founded lack of faith.

At difficult times like the one we are currently experiencing, it can often feel like there is no basis for hope, no reason to be optimistic. We are about to complete an annual cycle of Jewish holidays under the cloud of Covid-19, and in all likelihood we will spend a second consecutive פסח in relative isolation. We look upon the events at the Capitol from last week with disgust and anger, and look ahead to next week’s inauguration with fear and apprehension. And although we live in a democratic society that has both vast financial and medical resources, and a complex political system devised to endure the most difficult of challenges, we can still feel powerless as we watch the situation play out from afar. 

But unlike בני ישראל, we have the benefit of knowing how their story in מצרים ended: with freedom, redemption and faith restored (14:30-31). We can use that memory of the past to sustain our own faith in the future. We are familiar with the God ofאברהם,  יצחק and יעקב, and we can believe that God cares for us. We can have faith that even if the circumstances worsen, they can still, ultimately, get better.

Sat, May 18 2024 10 Iyyar 5784