Parasha Shemot: Without a Name, Without a Voice

The word Shemot means names. Ironically, a focus of this week’s parsha are the nameless, the Israelite slaves.

The Jewish people were in Egypt for 210 years. Their fathers and mothers knew hardship, they knew hardship. It was part of the collective Jewish experience. It was their personal narrative.

They had been constricted for so long they were unable to conceive of what it means to be free. They had no identity.

So they suffered in silence. They suffered in stillness. In the hush, they were mute.

Then Pharaoh, the king of Egypt died, and was replaced by a new one.  According to Rav Dov Ber Pinson, something in the inner world of the slave shifted, as a result of this death.

Suddenly there was an opening.

An opening?

When the king died, there was change in reality. There was a change in the conditions. Perhaps the slaves realized the transitory nature of life. Maybe they grasped the mortality of the human condition; a powerful master also dies, a human G-d is an illusion.

Now, imagine the slaves starting to question their situation.

“Maybe there is another way of being, maybe there is another way to exist”.

Just the possibility of this was enough. They opened their hearts and out came a hope. They opened their mouths and out came a cry.

It was a cry of a people who had been enslaved by their circumstances. It was a cry that pierced the atmosphere. It was cry that was heard in the sanctum of the heavens.

Edvard Munch - The Scream
The Scream by Edvard Munch

The moment the Jewish slaves opened their mouths, and cried, acknowledging their numbness, their pain, their stuckness, was the moment they began their freedom march.

A voiceless people now a people with a voice.

It was the beginning of redemption.

Sometimes we may find ourselves in voiceless, powerless, invisible stories, just as the slaves were.

Being a slave to an abusive relationship, our work, our desires, our food, and even our own delusions, is a painful place to be. It is very easy to get stuck in our story.

So many of these stories create meaning for us and are the subplots of our lives. Ideally, we hope our stories provide a positive life force but as we all know, this is not always so. Often our stories and our voices hinder our progress in fulfilling our true potential and authentic identity.

This can be at an intimate level or as a member of a communal society.

Stripped of our rights and our autonomy, we can feel a real sense of bondage, even though we may not be building pyramids in Egypt.

When we take that first primal step and recognize that our backdrop is not serving us, that there is something dehumanizing about our situations, that there has to be something more……we can begin to release, we can begin to breathe, we can begin to cry. We can open.

Just like the slaves, we can embrace hope.

Just like the slaves, we can give voice to our stories.  We can name them. We can re-author them. We can set them free.

Just like the slaves, through our storytelling, we can teach others what it was like to be in captivity. Like on Passover. We may want to forget, but we need them to remember.

Just like the slaves, we can begin our journey towards personal identity and redemption.

(Pam Abramowitz Wolfers)

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom…..

About the Author
Karen Wolfers Rapaport is a psychotherapist specializing in Narrative Therapy. She holds a BA from UCLA and an MA in Counseling Psychology from Boston College. She received her training from Tufts University. In addition to her therapeutic work and free lance writing for, and others, Karen works for the largest English publishing house in Israel where she leads and facilitates discussion groups with Israelis from every spectrum of society, aiming to create unity and respect.
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