Light from the Sidra

Pesach VII (Seventh Day of Passover) 10 April 2015. 22nd Nissan 5775

Torah: Exodus 13:17-15:26; Numbers 28:16-25. Haftarah: 2 Samuel:22:1-51.

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)


God is great!

During the bitterly cold winters of the 1950s in Yorkshire, my dad would sometimes take me on Saturday mornings (we weren’t Jewish!) to buy coal. On the way home, I would ask dad to let me push my old pram full of coal and, as a four year-old, I would feel pretty good as I leaned against the pram, eyes to the ground, not realising that in reality a smiling dad was doing all the work above me. That’s how it was with Moses. Three times in the book of Exodus, HASHEM assured Moses that he would deliver his people with a ‘stretched-out arm.’ Eight times in the book of Exodus, HASHEM commands Moses to ‘stretch out’ his hand or his rod in order to work a miracle but the true power behind the miracles is the stretched out hand of HASHEM, as Pharaoh’ magicians recognised in Exodus 8:16: ‘It is a finger of God!’

‘Who is HASHEM that I should serve him?’ Pharaoh asked when Moses first demanded that he let Israel go that they might serve him instead of Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Over a period of several months HASHEM answered Pharaoh’s rhetorical question through a display of power unequalled since the creation of the world. Except that, when HASHEM created the cosmos, he did so by issuing commands from his throne and, in obedience to the divine fiats, things that didn’t exist came into being. When the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God created the cosmos, he merely spoke. But to redeem his people from Egypt HASHEM did more than speak: ‘I have indeed seen the affliction of My people that is in Egypt,’ says HASHEM in Exodus 3:7-8, ‘and I have heard its outcry because of its taskmasters, for I have known its sufferings. I shall descend to rescue it from the hand of Egypt.’ To create the galaxies, God declared; to rescue his beloved people Israel, he descended!

No wonder then that in Exodus 15:11, after the water of the Sea of Reeds obliterated the military might of the most powerful nation on earth, Miriam and the women of Israel sang: ‘Who is like You among the [gods], HASHEM! Who is like You, mighty in holiness, too awesome for praise, Doer of wonders!’

The miracles Moses performed were attacks on the gods of Egypt. Khnum, the guardian of the Nile was powerless to protect the river from the power of HASHEM when he turned the sacred river, which was believed to be the bloodstream of Osiris, one of Egypt’s most powerful gods, to blood. Frogs, the sacred embodiments of Heqet, the goddess of life and fertility, brought stench, decay and disease to Egypt. Hathor the mother-goddess who was represented as a cow and Apis, the bull of the god Ptah, couldn’t protect the cattle of Egypt from HASHEM’s plague. Nut the sky-goddess and Set the protector of crops were shown to be impotent when Israel’s God sent hail and locusts on the land. Re, Aten, Atum and Horus – all of them sun gods – couldn’t prevent the sky turning so dark that no Egyptian could leave their home. And Pharaoh, who was a god in his own right, saw his firstborn son taken by the stretched-out arm of HASHEM. Every Egyptian family was bereft of its firstborn and the mightiest man in the ancient world was reduced to the level of every other mortal. Little wonder, then, that the Israelite women sang, ‘Who is like you among the gods, O HASHEM!’

In 2 Samuel 22, the Haftarah sets a context for Psalm 18, in which Davis celebrates HASHEM delivering him from Saul but the poem is set in Exodus terminology. David sings of God ‘descending’ (v. 10), thundering from the heavens and giving forth his voice (v. 14), making the depths of the sea visible (v. 16) and bringing him into a ‘broad space.’ HASHEM’s deliverance of David from Saul was David’s personal exodus; his redemption from a king who had exalted himself but was ultimately brought low.

The prophets of Israel foresaw a day when God would redeem his people in an even greater way than he did when they were in Egypt. In Isaiah 43:15-19, HASHEM declares: ‘I am HASHEM, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King. Thus says HASHEM, Who makes a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters; Who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power; they shall lie down together, they shall not rise: they are extinct, they are quenched as tow. Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert…’

Throughout history, HASHEM’s displays of power in history on behalf of his people have become greater and greater and require greater effort on his part. To create the universe, he spoke; to redeem Israel, he descended. The power HASHEM exercised to redeem Israel a second time exceeded the power he demonstrated in Egypt. At the first exodus he redeemed his people from Pharaoh and the mythological gods of Egypt; the second redemption would be from the power of the Satan and the Yetzer HaRa, ‘the Evil Inclination.’

According to Isaiah, to redeem his people a second time HASHEM will descend to become one of us: ‘A child has been born to us, a son has been given to us, and the dominion will rest on his shoulder; the Wondrous Adviser, Mighty God, Eternal Father… Sar-shalom [Prince of Peace]… boundless peace… will prevail on the throne of David and on his kingdom, to establish it and sustain it through justice and through righteousness, from now to eternity…’ (Isaiah 9:6).

Two thousand years ago HASHEM did descend. He became one of us. He was born a Jew among Jews, obedient to the Torah, in order that he might redeem those who were under the curse that results from disobedience to the Torah.

In a first-century CE letter to a congregation of Jewish and Gentile followers of Messiah, Rabbi Shaul ransacks the Greek language to explain the power of God in raising of Jesus from the dead after his crucifixion. He writes of the ‘exceeding greatness of [HASHEM’s] power toward us who are believing. All is in accordance with that working of the strength of His might. He brought this about in the Messiah, when He raised him from among the dead...’

To create the universe, HASHEM spoke. To redeem Israel from Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt, he ‘descended.’ To redeem Israel from the power of the Satan, HASHEM descended literally in order to die at the hands of Gentiles and the leaders of his own people. It took unimaginable power on the part of HASHEM to create the cosmos. It took even greater power to redeem Israel from Egypt. Astonishingly, it took the fullness of HASHEM’s power and love, as revealed in the death and resurrection of Messiah, to redeem Israel from their sins.

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