Shabbat Shemot

by Rabbi Debra Rappaport

This week, as we begin the secular new year, we also begin the book of Exodus and the paradigmatic story that will unfold in our weekly Torah readings until the early fall.  

There are two moments in Parshat Shemot that catalyze divine intervention in Israelites’ shift from enslavement to freedom, both supporting awareness and mindfulness practices in our day. I invite you to read this from a perspective of mythic imagination. 

In the first, the people cried out in their pain: “The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God.” Ex 2:23 There is a power in naming the pain and suffering; and not just naming it but in crying out, this is too hard, this is bigger than me, God help us!  

In the second (shortly after the people’s cry,) while going about his business tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, Moses encounters God – life force – in the form of a fire that does not consume: “Moses said: Now let me turn aside that I may see this marvelous sight – why the bush does not burn up! When יהוה (a.k.a. God) saw that he had turned aside to see, יהוה called to him out of the midst of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He [Moses] answered, “’Hineni, Here I am.’” (Exodus 3:4.) Moses is willing to see what is there, and to respond with his full attention. The verse ties God’s intervention with Moses’ attention.  

According to our mythic stories, both crying out our pain and giving our full attention can effect real change, through the energetic shifts cultivated by our attention.