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A Far Cry

The term does not occur very often but when it does, it cries out! In fact when it appears, it is so profoundly dramatic that it can and often does change the course of the (hi)story. The phrase is Vayitzak – To cry out, an unrestrained and nonverbal roar. – It occurs in this week’s portion of Miketz.

The seven years of plenty have passed and Egypt is now experiencing the foretold famine 41:55;

וַתִּרְעַב֙ כל־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּצְעַ֥ק הָעָ֛ם אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֖ה לַלָּ֑חֶם וַיֹּ֨אמֶר פַּרְעֹ֤ה לְכל־מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לְכ֣וּ אֶל־יוֹסֵ֔ף אֲשֶׁר־יֹאמַ֥ר לָכֶ֖ם תַּעֲשֽׂוּ׃

And when all the land of Egypt felt the hunger, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do.” 

It is an expression of desperation and also of potential rebellion. Imagine the course of history where Joseph did not enter the stage and court of the Egyptian leader to interpret the dreams and set the path to save the day. Perhaps that  would have been the downfall of Pharaoh, if not the entire empire that was to enslave the very people that saved them.

We have encountered the term in the past in heart wrenching circumstances, but it also ironically provides the tragic frame for the suffering of the children of Israel under the oppressive Egyptians. When God explains the mission to be undertaken to Moses, these very emotive expressions are brought, Shemot 3:7;

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה רָאֹ֥ה רָאִ֛יתִי אֶת־עֳנִ֥י עַמִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו כִּ֥י יָדַ֖עְתִּי אֶת־מַכְאֹבָֽיו׃

And God continued, “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings.

And two verses later;

וְעַתָּ֕ה הִנֵּ֛ה צַעֲקַ֥ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בָּ֣אָה אֵלָ֑י וְגַם־רָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הַלַּ֔חַץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִצְרַ֖יִם לֹחֲצִ֥ים אֹתָֽם׃

Now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me; moreover, I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them.

The expression makes an almost full circle appearance again at the climax of the ten plagues, where the children of Israel are at the cusp of freedom, Shemot 12:30;

וַיָּ֨קָם פַּרְעֹ֜ה לַ֗יְלָה ה֤וּא וְכָל־עֲבָדָיו֙ וְכָל־מִצְרַ֔יִם וַתְּהִ֛י צְעָקָ֥ה גְדֹלָ֖ה בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם כִּֽי־אֵ֣ין בַּ֔יִת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵֽין־שָׁ֖ם מֵֽת׃

And Pharaoh arose in the night, with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians—because there was a loud cry in Egypt; for there was no house where there was not someone dead.

The tyranny of Egypt gave rise to much suffering expressed through the cries for help, all the more, cries for justice. This raw form of protest and prayer is seen to powerfully resonate and influence God, albeit the response is too often too slow to come.

The vivid terminology occurs again at the time when the Israelites receive the detailed laws outlining how one must safeguard an ethical society, through the protection of the most vulnerable. The directive poignantly makes overt reference to our experiences, our cries in Egypt, Shemot 22:20-23

וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

כָּל־אַלְמָנָ֥ה וְיָת֖וֹם לֹ֥א תְעַנּֽוּן׃

You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.

אִם־עַנֵּ֥ה תְעַנֶּ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י אִם־צָעֹ֤ק יִצְעַק֙ אֵלַ֔י שָׁמֹ֥עַ אֶשְׁמַ֖ע צַעֲקָתֽוֹ׃

If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me,

וְחָרָ֣ה אַפִּ֔י וְהָרַגְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם בֶּחָ֑רֶב וְהָי֤וּ נְשֵׁיכֶם֙ אַלְמָנ֔וֹת וּבְנֵיכֶ֖ם יְתֹמִֽים׃ 

and My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

The recurring words Tzaok Yitzak, conjures repetitive sobbing, the uncontrolled weeping that we cannot turn a blind ear to, nor not act upon. It is on these foundational experiences and directives that our societies and State must rest.

Let us hope and pray, during these contemptible times when criminals are being knighted where אֵ֥ין מֶ֖לֶךְ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אִ֛ישׁ הַיָּשָׁ֥ר בְּעֵינָ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה “there is no leadership in Israel; every man does as he pleases”… and as we also celebrate with light that both God and we the people will, as eloquently pronounced in the Prayer for the welfare of the State in Israel; 

“Guide its leaders and advisors with Your light and Your truth…”

וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ

Shabbat shalom, Chanukah Sameach, Chodesh Tov

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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