The WORD – 2/3/11. Freedom protests in Egypt? I feel like I have heard this story before. For Jews, the concept of freedom is inextricably linked to the Land of Egypt. Yet for Egyptians, there has been little freedom in that land for many years.
As lovers of freedom and democracy, we hope to welcome another country into the club. As lovers of Israel, we pray that it is a peaceful transition.
For the Israelites in the ancient Biblical text, winning their freedom from a tyrant was only the first step in a long process. They needed to adopt a new set of laws – the Torah, as given at Mt. Sinai. They needed to establish a new government – the appointment of judges by Moses upon the advice of Yitro. And, in this week’s Torah portion, individual members of society needed to step up and take part in the building of a new infrastructure – not just the tearing down of the old one.
We read at the very beginning of our parashah this week God’s command to Moses: “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts from every person whose heart so moves him.” These gifts, in turn, were used to construct the very first house of worship in the history of our people – The Tabernacle. Through this important project, God was forcing the Israelites to focus on the future rather than dwell on the past (though we never forget our past).
Even after taking all of these concrete steps, it took our ancestors forty years of wandering in the wilderness before they would be fully prepared to enter into the Promised Land and be an independent people in their own land. It was a difficult and painful transition. Even Moses himself did not ultimately make it into the Promised Land.
The Egyptian people have taken some important steps toward freedom. However, the violence of the past 24 hours should remind everyone that it will not be an easy or painless transition for them. We can only hope that it will take less than 40 years for them to put their house in order and that their new government will choose to remain peaceful neighbors to Israel.
If so, then we will have yet another reason to associate the Land of Egypt with the concept of freedom.