31 Dec Rabbi Hillel Skolnik’s Torah Spark for Parashat Sh’mot 5776
This coming Shabbat represents new beginnings in several respects. As I’m sure you’re aware, this coming Thursday evening, when the clock strikes midnight we will no longer be living in the year 2015, as 2016 will have begun and we’ll have to get accustomed to writing the year as 2016 on checks and other forms that require our signature. Our Torah portion this Shabbat is also a new beginning of sorts as we have finished the book of B’reishit, the book of Genesis, and embark now on a journey with the Children of Israel that begins this week with Parashat Sh’mot, the first Torah portion in the book of Sh’mot or Exodus. That journey will continue all the way through the end of D’varim, the book of Deuteronomy. And with this email we begin our second year of a Torah Spark being included in the JFGO’s “Monday Mah Nishmah”. Hopefully you have found these words of Torah inspiring and thought provoking, perhaps even inspiring discussion among your friends and the members of your family.
One more new beginning that exists in this week’s parasha is that of a new Pharaoh who now rules over Egypt. What is super surprising about this new Pharaoh is the description of him given in Chapter 1, verse 8 which reads “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph (NJPS).” It is on this verse that Rashi famously comments, “he positioned himself as if he didn’t know him”. Rashi, answering the unspoken question of how could it be possible that a king of Egypt could not have known Joseph – the same Joseph that saved Egypt from famine not long ago – answers by saying that it wasn’t that this new king didn’t know Joseph. It was that he pretended not to know him, or positioned himself as not knowing Joseph which then enabled this new king to enslave the Israelites.
While I obviously do not agree with the new Pharaoh’s actions, I do admit it must be nice to be able to fashion a reality that completely ignores the events of the past and simply creates a new one out of thin air. It was something that might have been within the power of a Pharaoh to do, but was – and still is today – most certainly wrong and immoral. Just because 2016 is about to begin does not mean that we can simply erase 2015 from our thoughts and memories. The blessings that it brought will continue to enrich our lives and the horrors we witnessed will continue to haunt us and affect our future. But to pretend that it did not exist, that the heroism we saw never took place or the violence we experienced didn’t happen would be impossible to fathom and would be an insult to those who lost their lives and those who gave their lives. We have much to work on this coming year to make ourselves better people and our world a better place. For us to be successful, and we need to be successful, we must protect the memories and truths of the past so that they can be our guide for a peaceful future.
Rabbi Hillel Skolnik