With the death of Yosef, the Book of Bereishet (Genesis) comes to an end. The Book of Shmot (Exodus) chronicles the creation of the nation of Israel from the descendants of Yaakov. At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Pharaoh, fearing the population explosion of Jews, enslaves them. However, when their birthrate increases, he orders the Jewish midwives to kill all newborn males. Yocheved gives birth to Moshe and hides him in the reeds by the Nile. Pharaoh's daughter finds and adopts him, although she knows he is probably a Hebrew. Miriam, Moshe's sister, offers to find a nursemaid for Moshe and arranges for his mother Yocheved to be his nursemaid. Years later, Moshe witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and Moshe kills the Egyptian. Realizing his life is in danger, Moshe flees to Midian where he rescues Tzipporah, whose father Yitro approves their subsequent marriage. On Chorev (Mt. Sinai) Moshe witnesses the burning bush where G-d commands him to lead the Jewish People from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, the land promised to their ancestors. Moshe protests that the Jewish People will doubt his being G-ds agent, so G-d enables Moshe to perform three miraculous transformations to validate himself in the people's eyes: Transforming his staff into a snake, his healthy hand into a leprous one, and water into blood. When Moshe declares that he is not a good public speaker G-d tells him that his brother Aharon will be his spokesman. Aharon greets Moshe on his return to Egypt and they petition Pharaoh to release the Jews. Pharaoh responds with even harsher decrees, declaring that the Jews must produce the same quota of bricks as before but without being given supplies. The people become dispirited, but G-d assures Moshe that He will force Pharaoh to let the Jews leave.
Birth of a Nation
"and there he became a nation" (Devarim 26:5)
I have a friend who became religious in New York City. He had been attending a synagogue on a fairly regular basis. One day he was leaving the shul after the morning service. He was returning the paper yarmulke to its place at the shuls entrance when he decided he wanted to "wear" his new-found religiosity more openly.
Leaving the shul, he turned, not toward his apartment, but in the other direction. Within a few minutes, he found himself at the door of a Jewish bookstore. At the end of the counter there was a carousel that carried the entire gamut of Orthodox Jewish headgear. Approaching the carousel, he began to turn it slowly.
He was amazed at the range of choices. There were white kipot and green kipot, black kipot, knitted kipot, leather kipot, velvet kipot, cloth kipot and kipot that looked like they had come off the head of an Afghan sheep herd.
"Which one am I going to chose?" he thought to himself.
Little did he realize he was about to enter a political minefield.
Without thinking too much about it, he picked a large black velvet kipah and plonked it on the top of his head. Making his way to the cashier, he paid for his new yarmulke, and walked outside, and stopped in his tracks.
Everything had changed.
He had changed. The world had changed.
He thought to himself, "I have become an ambassador.
I have become an ambassador for the Jewish People. Everything I do now will be judged through the lens of my Jewishness.
If I push in line, people wont say Whos this guy pushing in line? Theyll say Whos this Jew pushing in line? And if I give up my seat to an old lady on the subway (If old ladies do still venture onto the subway) I will have sanctified the Name of Heaven."
Little do we realize that the good name of the Jewish People, and along with them the G-d of the Jewish People, rests on a small piece of cloth perched precariously on our heads.
This weeks Torah portion marks the beginning of the birth of a nation.
"and there he became a nation"
The Haggada of Passover quotes this verse and explains that the Jewish People were "outstanding" there in Egypt. They didnt change their manner of dress, their names or their language. They were a very visible and very distinct minority.
As we were born, so we continue.
Every interaction a "uniformed" Jew has with the world-at-large has the potential to sanctify the Name of Heaven. And it can be done in the smallest of ways. Ive seen this same friend go up to garbage collectors (even if he doesnt live in the area) and say "Thank you!"
The other day he was in an art shop. He was looking for a very, very, fine paintbrush. He found four no. 0000s. To save himself another trip to the art store, he took all of them. In line to pay, he noticed the cashier (a young lady with spiked hair the color of a depressed Barbie doll) looking at him with an expression of mild distaste. Handing the brushes to her, he remarked, "I took the last of these brushes. You may want to reorder them so youll have them in stock when the next person comes along."
The assistant looked up at him for a second, and smiled.
We are all ambassadors in the birth of our nation.