Friday, January 4, 2013


In this week's Torah portion, God calls to Moses, and begins the process of freeing our people from Egyptian slavery*. When God first talks to Moses, God says, "I have seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry..." (Exodus 3:7)

* It's a really good story. Someone should make a movie out of it, or something.

The great commentator Sforno thinks that the Hebrew word "oni," which is being translated as "affliction" is really a form of the world "aniyei* -- the poor." He then spins it out a bit and imagines that "the poor" refers to the righteous of the generation who have been praying on behalf of the people.

* The Hebrew of the Torah doesn't have vowels, which allows for a lot of word playing, where the commentators can substitute similar words for what seems to be the plain meaning.

It's a bit strange, if you're not used to the way in which Rabbis love to twist and play with the text. But, the point (for now) is that (according to Sforno) God is saying that this is the time to act, because some people have been praying for others.

It offers a tantalizing suggestion. Many have asked why God let us stay enslaved for 400 years? Why did God wait so long to save us? Maybe the reason was that, during that whole time, we were crying out because of our own suffering. That all of our prayers were about asking God to save us. Maybe God refused to act until someone, anyone, starting worrying more about his or her neighbor than him or herself?

Maybe the message is that redemption will come precisely when we stop worrying about our own troubles, as valid as they may be, and start worrying about other people's troubles, instead.

Shabbat Shalom!

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