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Dvar Torah - Shemot

One of the most significant challenges in any discipline can be explaining it to someone not already knowledgeable. When I was at university, I studied early modern Jewish history. For the field, early modern usually means sometime after the arrival of the printing press in Europe. This creates a strange reality where, for historians, events of the last 600 years (or so) are part of a continuum called "modern history", but for the rest of the world, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are far from modernity. Depending on how you think about the different periods (and how big you make the gaps between them), the events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries either flow from those of the fifteenth or are entirely divorced.


We see a similar reality in this week's Parsha. The Torah signals the end of the book of Bereishit and the start of Shemot by placing a five-line gap between them. However, even more than that visual cue, the story jumps by more than two hundred years. In the process, the children of Israel become the Children of Israel, a nation.


Something else changed in that time. When Yossef died, and the children of Israel were still just a family, the Egyptians loved them. Yossef was the saviour of Egypt, the man who had led the country through the great famine and into an age of unprecedented prosperity. By the beginning of Shemot, the Jews are "disgusting" to the Egyptians, filling the land and perceived as a threat and a potential fifth column. Such are the vicissitudes of history.


These two phenomena are related to each other. The Torah tells us that "just as [the Egyptians] tormented [the Children of Israel], so they became many, and so they spread." The suffering catalyzed the Jews in Egypt to develop into a great and numerous nation and transformed them into a group that would be able to rule a land.


We see a similar phenomenon now—unfortunately, the Jewish world before Simchat Torah was riven by division and profound disagreement. The terrible events of that day reminded us that we are one people, one family. We progress through history together. We don't always need to agree, but we must always respect each other and maintain unity.


It is terrible that it took such horrific events to remind us of our common bonds. Let us not forget them again soon so that we may, at least, emerge from this struggle stronger than we were.





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