After the first seven days of this #blogExodus exercise, I have come to see that there’s a little bit of everything in the Exodus story. Rising initially arises in the story as a taboo. God commands the Israelites, when they’re about to escape from Egypt, that they mustn’t leaven their bread – there’s no time to let it rise. God makes clear that this is quite an important command – they must not eat leavened bread for seven days, or they will be cut off from Israel (Exodus 12:15-20).
Although the Israelites’ food is not allowed to rise, they themselves are called upon to rise up against their fears and doubts, throughout the book of Exodus. They are not always successful, and some die because of a lack of faith and trust in Moses and in God. God does a fair amount of smiting in fits of wrath over the weakness and disobedience of the Israelites.
To me, one of the most profound instances of the Israelites rising to a challenge is the story of Nachshon. When the Israelites are trapped between the Pharaoh’s troops and the sea, God tells them to travel – to move forward. The only way forward is into the water, and the Israelites seem paralyzed. Nachshon is the first to step into the water, but the sea does not part immediately. He goes deeper – to his knees, his waist, his shoulders, and finally over his head. Now the sea splits, and the Israelites are able to make their escape from the land of slavery.
This is only the first iteration of someone rising to be the best and bravest of themselves. Moses rises to the top of Mt. Sinai, where God gives him the two tablets containing the ten commandments. He actually does this twice, because he smashes the tablets, enraged when he descends from Mt. Sinai the first time, after 40 days with God, only to see that the Israelites had devolved into worship of the Golden Calf. Moses ascends the mountain again, and after another 40 days, receives the second set of tablets – the covenant of the Israelites with God.
Finally, as I see it, the Israelites had to rise to the immense challenge of being a free people. Not nearly as simple, I think, as a life where one has known what was expected – even in the midst of the degradation of slavery. The Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, have to create laws and community for themselves. It must have been terrifying for them. They didn’t know how to fend for themselves. They had been downtrodden for a long time, and had to rise up to find a new way of being. One might say that God gave them the leavening they needed, even as they could not use the leavening they had known.
For myself, I wonder what I might take from the immense challenge and achievement of our ancestors. Maybe I need to see that I enslave myself and refuse to take the risk that Nachshon did. Do I have anything of Nachshon in me, to believe so strongly – in God, in the God within me – that I can take that first step? And the one after? And the one after that
I’m participating this year in #blogExodus, a daily series of posts, tweets, and status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. The series lasts for 14 days – not nearly as long as the Jews wandered in the desert all those years ago. You can find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.