These and Those

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

על שמות, on shmot

Posted on March 8, 2011 by Avi Strausberg

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in the beginning of sefer shmot, בני ישראל did not yet know their God.  when God recruits moshe to make the initial introduction between He and the people, God first must tell moshe by what name He can be called before moshe is even willing to make this giant leap.  sefer shmot is the book of “getting to know you” between God and the people.  just as God uses the plagues to make His name and power known to pharoah, so too God spends much of sefer shmot performing miracles for the israelities in order that they come to know their God.

and, as in most relationships, this “getting to know you” stage is not smooth sailing for any of the involved parties.  during the course of this fledgling relationship, the people experience huge highs in which they profess their undying faith and devotion to their new love as well as plumb the depths of skepticism and despair in which they question leaving egypt in the first place, convinced they have been led into the desert simply to die.

admist these highs, lows, and near break-ups, God and the people keep coming back to each other, pledging their commitment to one another in the form of promises, codes of law, and renewed covenants.

we end sefer shmot on a high point in this relationship.  finally, after all of the bumpy starts (the crisis of faith, the alleged starvation, the idol worship), the people have given themselves over in an effort to build God the perfect house among them.  and God, in approval of his people’s energies, does in fact dwell amidst His people.  the final paragraph of shmot paints a lovely picture of faith and comfort.  “כי ענן ה’ על–המשכן יומם ואש תהיה לילה בו לעיני כל–בית–ישראל בכל מסעיהם, For over the Taberacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys” (jps translation, shmot 40:38).

at least for now, we’ve come to a place of stability and understanding in our relationship with God, turning to Him for guidance and bringing gifts of love.  in exchange, He offers us continued protection and reveals wonders as He leads us to the land promised to our forefathers.

beginning of שמות

who are you to tell us,
whom to worship, where to turn?
we don’t know this God.

closing of שמות

God, i call by name.
i will not go without Him.
i wait for His word.

may we create relationships defined by reciprocal gratitude, respect, and faith in our partners,