Va'Era – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis
Egypt had long been a nightmare, a place of slavery and oppression. Once, generations earlier, Egypt had been a place of safety for Jacob and his family in a time of famine.
At the beginning of the Sedra we are told that the people were unwilling to hear Moses because of:
shortness of breath and because of hard labour
מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵֽעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה
Shortness of breath can be understood as a lack of the ability to make decisions. In our long history we have been in many similar situations and many times failed to see what was before our very eyes. We needed to remind ourselves that freedom is a state of mind that we can grasp even when our bodies cannot experience it.
In Egypt we had become a people regarded a threat and our own perception of ourselves was of helplessness. It would take two things to change. It required not just a leader but, more importantly, the realisation that the covenant made with our forefathers was still there; It was for freedom and our own land. Ahead of us was Sinai and the formalisation of our relationship with God. Those structures would become Judaism by faith and practice which would be our guide in the future.
In all the oppression and slavery that we would encounter, in massacres in the Rhine valley, in the expulsion from Spain, pogroms in the Pale of Settlement, the Farhud in Arab lands and, of course, the Shoah in Europe. It was Judaism that bounded us together. Sometimes it was by building walls around ourselves and at other times it would be by taking matters into our own hands. It was the path to migration and Aliyah. It would not be easy but it would eventually lead to the realisation of the original promise.
When Bergen Belsen was liberated there was a service led by Reverend Leslie Hardman who concluded the service with Hatikvah and then called out:
עַם יִשְרָאֵל חַי
Am Yisroel Chai
The children of Israel still live