Tag Archive: exodus

Elul, Exodus, and the Economy

So here we are.  It is once again the month of Elul in which we begin to blow the Shofar on a daily basis and prepare for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. To many people across the country, a new year that offers new change and hope is a good thing! From the economic doldrums that we continue to face globally and the health care debate that seem to continue to roar across the USA, times appear to only get worse and worse with each passing day. We can only hope that our elected leadership pull us through and out of this vortex that seems to be shoving more and more people into the Great Recession.

And yet, just several months ago, millions of Americans converged upon Washington D.C. to partake in the swearing in ceremony of our nation’s 44th President. Indeed, years from now your children and grandchildren may ask, “Where were you when the 44th President of the United States of America was sworn in?” All politics aside, when America elected President Barack H. Obama barriers of prejudice and race where forever torn down.  However, Mr. Obama did not travel upon a simple road to success and power. History suggests that he revolutionized the campaign process by promoting his presidency on the internet and starting his campaign practically two years prior to the election. However, at one point in time, the greatest obstacle that would have stood in his path towards the White House was the color of his skin. Nonetheless, the issue of race began to change with the leadership and efforts of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln—who is largely credited for the advancement of African Americans in our country and overall society.

To that end, we all are familiar with the expression, “hindsight is twenty-twenty.” This idiom suggests that every human being—and certainly world leaders, presidents and persons of power—need to look into the past to learn the mistakes and successes of how previous generations navigated through wars, recessions, politics, race, and various other timeless issues of interest. In light of the above, as we find ourselves on the cusp of the High Holidays, it would be prudent of us to observe a group of leaders who lived during the period of the Exodus, a time in which Hashem showed the world that he is the Creator and we are his people.

Truth be told, when you think of the leaders of the Exodus, the first names that probably come to your mind are that of Moses and his brother Aaron. And yet, the Talmud (Sotah 11b) relates: “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt!” In other words , the driving force towards God performing the plethora of miracles and splitting the Red Sea were none other than the Jewish women and the feminine leadership of the time.

How did they inspire change and forever impact the generation of the Exodus, and Jewish history for that matter?

Let us turn to the first model of feminine leadership found in the story of the Jewish midwives Shifrah and Puah. The Torah records that Pharaoh instructed them to systematically kill Jewish babies at their birth.

What do they do?

They do not argue with his orders.

Instead they practice insubordination by ignoring his immoral decree. Let’s be honest. That took some real guts to do back then. If they were ever caught by the Egyptian authorities invariably their heads would roll! How did they act so calm, cool and collected in front of Pharaoh, and yet have the courage to do what was right?

The Mai Hashiloach, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica (1801-1854) teaches a powerful concept that rings true to this very day, and answers our question. He is of the opinion that when a person is afraid of people, and thinks that people solely run the world, then one can feel consumed by varying emotions of anxiety and stress—and under pressure and duress, loose his or her composure. However, if one realizes that Hashem is ultimately in control, even in turbulent times—such a person possesses a great sense of calm. It was this sense of emunah, of faith in Hashem, that Shifrah and Puah had and by extension, allowed them to act with defiance towards the edict of Pharaoh.

What’s more, the courage and feminine leadership did not stop with this one instance. In fact, if you think we, who are entrenched in a deep recession had it bad, try envisioning living through the tough times the Jewish people endured while in slavery.  Honestly, if I was around back then I could see myself very much giving up hope. After all, the Jews were enslaved for a couple centuries under the rule of the wicked Pharaoh. Indeed, Jewish tradition relates that this is exactly what happened. The men of the period—even great men such as Moses’s father—separated from their wives so as not to bring any future Jewish children into such miserable slavery. And yet, the Jewish women once again did not give up hope and faith in the Almighty. Instead, they preserved, remained steadfast in their belief in Hashem and encouraged their husbands to procreate and further establish the Jewish nation.

Finally, after God miraculously saved the Jewish people by splitting the Red Sea and drowning their Egyptian pursuers in it, the Jewish men sang a beautiful song to Hashem. The Jewish women, however, lead by the prophetess Miriam, seemingly outperformed the men by accompanying their song with music and dancing. Rashi explains that the Jewish women in Egypt were convinced that they would merit further miracles. And so, they packed instruments to play while singing praises to Hashem. In spite of the centuries of oppression and suffering in Egypt, they remained very optimistic that they would see a period of change, in which they would be able to celebrate the taste of freedom and the dawn of a new era.

And so, while it appears that the economy seems to only get worse with each day, we too must never give up on the notions of “hope” and “change” for a better tomorrow. We must remember that  all along we are in good hands—the hands of Hashem. May we merit that this upcoming year is a sweet one for all of Klal Yisrael, and that we finally see the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our days.

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