Have you ever grappled with one of those wooden puzzle boxes that has a secret compartment? If you manipulate the different pieces correctly, a hidden drawer pops open and you find the concealed prize.
This type of puzzle can be extremely frustrating. I was once handed such an item at a dinner party. After a while, I became convinced that there was no answer. The whole thing was simply a sadistic game. At that point, the friend who gave me the game took back the box and showed me exactly how to solve the puzzle. Once I knew how it was quite simple.
In a similar manner, a full 30% of the Book of Exodus is taken up by a long and detailed description of how Israel got out of Egypt. We Jews read those Torah portions every single year, and in addition, once each year we actually live out the entire experience in a ceremony known as the Passover Seder.
The Book of Exodus serves to instill into our bloodstreams the belief that there is always a solution and a possible redemption. Each of us suffers in our own form of Egypt, but it is not terminal. There is always a way out allowing us to emerge from darkness to light and from slavery to freedom.
Verses that may not make sense if Exodus is viewed as just a storybook, begin to shine bright beams of brilliance when we realize the book is an instruction manual. The details that are given direct each of us how to pave our own pathway from stagnation to growth and from despair to triumph.
For example, look at this verse:
And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and He issued a commandment to Israel and to Pharaoh king of Egypt for the Children of Israel to exit the land of Egypt.
The basic understanding might have been that God spoke to Moses and Aaron and instructed them to make Pharaoh allow Israel to leave. But why is God issuing that commandment not only to Pharaoh but also to the people of Israel themselves?
After all, Israel is the victim, right? Pharaoh must be made to release his slaves, which is exactly what God directs. But His directive is also issued to Israel. Why?
Ancient Jewish wisdom supplies the shocking answer. Israel was not to be a passive people being delivered by Moses and Aaron and expelled by Pharaoh. God never wants His children to be inert tennis balls floating down the gutter of life. God commanded them to become instruments of their own deliverance. Passivity and victimhood never propelled anyone anywhere.
Today we need this reminder more than ever. We are culturally indoctrinated to think that we have all sorts of rights that others have the responsibility to deliver to us. The rights to an education, to food, to a job, to health care and to housing are only a few of the rights we are urged to claim. Some politicians are now extending this principle to a right to basic income regardless of any actions we might take—or choose not to take. The more that citizens reject the principle of responsibility for their own lives, the more they transfer those responsibilities to the government. It follows that they are increasingly comfortable with government growing ever bigger, ever more powerful and ever more intrusive.
The Bible, out of which emerged the Judeo-Christian values on which the United States of America was founded, teaches differently. Each of us has many obligations; to our families, to our communities, to our nation and to God. Today, increasing numbers of citizens reject that viewpoint.
A few years before the terror attacks of 9/11, Susan and I wrote a book called America’s Real War: An Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival. We are updating it and reissuing a new edition with a roadmap for our times. We would like your participation in doing so. Starting on February 11, 2020, we are hosting ten online Facebook sessions to discuss areas that need to be added and questions that need to be answered. Please go here to find out more about this exciting project. We hope you will join us.