[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Bo
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Wed Jan 24 00:40:49 GMT 2007
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
January 27, 2007 / 8 Sh'vat 5767
I have always been troubled by the beginning of this Torah portion. Gd
instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites.
Moreover, Gd tells Moses "I have hardened Pharaoh's heart." And thus the
battle between Gd and Pharaoh-through Gd's surrogate Moses-begins. Imagine
how different the story might have been had Gd not hardened Pharaoh's heart.
Perhaps Moses and Pharaoh could have had a more rational discussion and
eventually Pharaoh would have seen the wisdom in Moses' argument and been
persuaded to allow the Israelites to leave.
Some commentators suggest that Pharaoh's heart was already hard and Gd just
sped up the process or took it to where it was heading in the first place.
They too understand the implications of the story. I recognize that our
modern aversion to bloodshed does not overlay easily with the Biblical
narrative. Nor do I believe Moses could have easily persuaded Pharaoh to
allow the Israelites to leave peacefully. After all, Moses was no public
speaker. And I know that sometimes a show of force is necessary. But I
remain uncomfortable with the story, because I realize how many lives were
lost as a result of the posturing that took place between Gd and Pharaoh. I
just wonder whether a different approach could have been taken.
And yet, this show of strength finally persuaded a bereft Pharaoh to allow
the Israelites to leave Egypt. An additional show of strength ensured the
Exodus' success after Pharaoh's change of heart, when Gd destroyed the
Egyptian army as they pursued the Israelites across the Red Sea. This
continuous demonstration of Gd's strength was necessary as the foundation
for Judaism and the Jewish people, because it represented Gd's side of "the
deal"-the covenantal relationship. Gd would continue to protect Israel with
strength and might, so long as Israel accepted the Law. The portion ends
with a reminder that "it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for
frontlets between your eyes; for by strength of hand Gd brought us forth out
of Egypt" (Exodus 13:16).
Gd's show of strength in Egypt also persuaded numerous peoples to join the
ancient Israelites as they left Egypt en route to the land of promise. As we
think about welcoming in those on the periphery today, perhaps we need to
remember that the "signs and wonders" the ancient Israelites experienced
also drew in the mixed multitude in the ancient world. Perhaps it is time to
share this experience with others once again. What are the "signs and
wonders" in today's Jewish community? If we look for them, we'll see many.
Outreach works best when we are drawing people to a strong and successful
Jewish community. Fear (about demographics, for example, or intermarriage)
is not what will draw in newcomers. birthright israel, for example, is so
powerful because of its positive focus on what is so great about Israel and
being Jewish. Taste of Judaism attracts tens of thousands of newcomers who
want to know what is so special about this tiny group of successful people
with such a long and proud heritage. With regard to outreach, a show of
strength is positive, if done right-strength of community, meaning, mission,
Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky
Jewish Outreach Institute
1270 Broadway, Suite 609
New York, NY 10001
<http://www.joi.org/> www.JOI.org <http://www.joi.org/>
JOI's National Conference: Opening the Tent: Visions and Practices for a
More Inclusive Jewish Community will be held October 14-16, 2007 in
Washington, DC. Visit our conference website for up-to-date information
For conference pre-registration, please contact Denyse Gregoire, conference
coordinator at DGregoire at JOI.org.
JOI-2007-Celebrating our 20th year of Transforming Lives, Transforming
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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