Four verbs that set us free


By Rabbah Arlene Berger

Special to WJW

This week’s Torah portion is Va’era, Exodus 6:2-9:35.

We are living in extraordinary times that impact each of us emotionally, psychologically and even physically.

So how do we deal with a virulent pandemic that has taken so many lives, a vaccine that brings hope but needs to be properly distributed and a political situation that is unlike anything most of us have ever seen?. How are we not only to cope, but also to figure out what each of us is supposed to do?

One traditional method for Jews is to look to the Torah and our heritage.

This week’s parshah begins as God speaks to Moses. We learn what God intends to do as well as what God expects of Moses and the rest of the Israelites — then and now. And we encounter two verses that will sound familiar to anyone who has attended a Passover seder:

“Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians (v’hotzeiti) and deliver you from their bondage (v’hitzalti). I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements (v’ga’alti). And I will take you to be My people (v’lakachti), and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians” [Exodus 6:6-7].

These verses contain four verbs that change the course of history. God has heard our cries and, with an outstretched arm and miraculous events, will free us from our burdens. Why? So that we will receive the Torah at Sinai and cement our partnership with God. The result of these promises is fairly radical: God will be in an acknowledged relationship with all of us. We will all witness God’s wonders and we will all know Adonai, the God who freed us from slavery.

We were in a situation that appeared to have no end and God provided our deliverance. What does this tell us? That God will always step in and be our liberator? It is possible that that is what the Israelites of the time thought.

Today, we see that God does not act in the world as the God of the Torah did. We are expected to step up, to learn from our past experiences and apply that knowledge to our current situation. As humans created in the divine image, we are not expected to agree with each other all the time or even to get along. We are expected, however, to emulate the divine attributes of love, grace, caring and justice. We can recall our relationship with a God who helped us out in the past in the most astonishing ways and remember that that relationship still exists. But, we are no longer the slaves who were brought out of Egypt and had yet to learn how to do for themselves. We’ve learned.

In Genesis, we learn that the universe was created with words. In our morning prayers, we say “Baruch She’amar,” Blessed is the One Who spoke and the world was. We see that words have both creative and destructive power.

We, as embodied beings, do not live only through words, but also through action. As such, it is up to each of us to discern how, through our actions and words, to manifest godliness in the world. God, with those remarkable four verbs, took us out of bondage and set us up to live amazing lives in a world full of possibility.

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the rabbi of the Fauquier Jewish Congregation in Warrenton and a community chaplain.

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