These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

שמות, shmot

Posted on December 21, 2010 by Avi Strausberg

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we get our first hint “that we’re not in kansas in anymore” (dorothy, wizard of oz), when on our first page of our brand new book shmot, we learn that there’s a new king in town, and this new king does not know nor seem to care at all for joseph.  this first parsha שמות, juxtaposed with the family stories of beresheit and joseph’s eventual rise to power, feels as if it is written by a totally different author who finally got his turn at storytelling. with new characters, a new plot, and even in a new name revealed for God, we find ourselves in places we’ve never been before.

moshe, perhaps, gets hit harder than any of us, when he finds himself the newly appointed right-hand man and voice of God.  despite God’s insistence that he’s up to the task, moshe pushes back, pleading, “בי אדני לא איש דברים אנכי גם מתמול גם משלשם גם מאז דברך אל–עבדך,” (“Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to your servant”; JPS trans, exodus: 4.10).  moshe, even with God’s assurance that He will be with him when he speaks to the people, finds himself unable to adjust to the reality of his new role.

the words, תמול and שלשם, referring to times past and the change at hand, pop again when pharoah instructs the foremen inflicting hard labor on the israelites to stop providing them with the straw necessary to make their bricks.  now, the people must manage to produce the same work, in the same amount of time, while gathering all of their own materials.  again, the conditions have changed from those before, and the people are not prepared for, nor can they handle the sudden shift.  and of course, when the people fail to complete the correct quota of bricks, the foreman demands why that haven’t completed the quota, “כתמול שלשם” (“as before”; JPS trans, exodus: 5.14).

it seems sometimes, we can’t just flip a page, open a new book, and finds ourselves ready to jump head-first into a totally different story.  sometimes we need some time to get to used to the changes, to find our way into the role, and to see how the story shapes up around us.

still in yesterday,
unable to face today.
the new script awaits.

may we find ourselves ready to adapt to the changes in our lives as they arise,