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Chapter One

Friday, 17 January, 2020 - 8:37 am

“This is such a sad book,” my daughter recently commented when we began reading.

“Well,” I countered, “It might be a sad chapter, but we are still on Chapter One. Perhaps the ending will be happy. Maybe in the end it’s a happy book.”

*

This week we begin reading the Book of Shemot (Exodus). The first parsha is also called Shemot.

Unfortunately, the position of the Jewish people takes a drastic nosedive. Gone are the good old days when one of their own ruled the country. Gone are the days of comfort and riches. Gone are the peace and tranquility of sitting at the feet of their wise Patriarch Yaakov.

Servitude. Infanticide. Torture. This is the new reality. It’s depressing.

On the spiritual side of things, it’s equally depressing. Leadership seems nonexistent. Jews have taken to embracing Egyptian lifestyle and religious practice. Infighting prevails.

*

But, this is only Chapter One. Later in the Book of Shemot, we witness the Exodus from Egypt, the Giving of the Torah and the construction of a Sanctuary for Hashem.

Quite a turnaround.

*

We might be tempted to view this as a change of heart in Heaven. G-d is initially unsatisfied with his people, perhaps even angry with them. Eventually, He hears their cries, feels their pain – and decides to intervene.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Rashi’s opening comment on the Book of Shemot addresses why the book opens with a listing of the names of the Tribes of Israel. We should easily remember this information from last week’s parsha and the week before. Why does the Torah begin the Book of Shemot with a count of the Jewish people, yet again?

Rashi explains, that G-d counted them again to let us know how precious they are to Him. When something is precious, you count it again and again. Not because you need to know the sum. Simply because you are in love with it.

While Rashi seems to merely be addressing the narrow issue of the counting of the Jewish people, perhaps he is also intimating a response to the broader issue raised earlier.

Rashi is guiding us to look at the bigger picture. The Torah adds this list of the Jewish people to help change our mindset.

Hashem declares at the outset: I love you. There will be tough times ahead, but it’s all part of a greater plan. There is purpose in your journey. The end will be glorious.

In fact, in each of the Five Books of Moses, Rashi’s opening comment relates to Hashem’s love for His people! In other words, no matter what twists and turns we encounter in each Book of the Torah – Hashem is declaring His love for -and unwavering commitment to- His people.

*

Our own lives are full of chapters. Perhaps, even a series of books.

This parsha reminds us that every chapter is a step in the right direction. In some chapters it’s more obvious, in others less so. But, we ought to remember that the Author of our personal ‘Book of Life’ has encoded His endless love for us in the very beginning of our book.

*

Turns out, it’s not only a happy ending. Deep down, it’s also a happy beginning.

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