Although many Jews valiantly live in Israel today, we are still in “exile”. We remain under constant threat and are far from attaining peace. We suffer considerably from devastating death and destruction that does not seem to discriminate. Many wonder how and when we will ever see the great redemption that was promised to us at our inception. We eagerly await the day when peace and truth will be recognized and accepted universally.
The nagging question is if G-d wants to redeem us, why hasn’t He already? What is He waiting for? ‘
The prophet Isaiah is told by G-d that the redemption will either come “In it’s time” or “I will hasten it”. I was taught that if we are righteous we will merit that G-d will hasten the coming of the Messiah, but if not, there is a deadline that G-d will meet. Since I prefer not to sit around and wait, I look to the first redemption for answers.
The story of the first redemption takes place in the Book of Exodus, which is known in Hebrew as Shemot/Names. It seems ironic that the story of the Exodus is told to us without using names for any of the Jewish characters.
“A Man of the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.”
“The Woman conceived and bore a son, and [when] she saw him that he was good, she hid him for three months.”
“His Sister stood from afar, to know what would be done to him.”
The text is telling us that the Jews lost their unique identities. As slaves, they could not fully express their inner essence which is represented by one’s name. It was not until the Jews cried out to G-d that He arranged for the redeemer, Moshe to be born. Moshe is the first to be referred to by name as he was the first Jew allowed to develop his character as a free man. While he develops with much introspection he is compelled to act in ways that he deems righteous as only a free man would dare do. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued him from the Nile and named him Moshe because “min hamayim mishitihu”, he was drawn forth from the water. His name indicates that he was saved as an act of chesed (kindness) and in turn will go on to live a life bestowing kindness to others. He acted heroically killing an Egyptian taskmaster for severely beating a Jew. Moshe also saved the daughters of Yitro from the tormenting shepherds and chivalrously watered their sheep. He then became a scrupulous shepherd caring for each and every one of the flock. It is therefore no surprise that G-d chose Moshe to be the redeemer of the Jewish people. He had no tolerance for injustice and displayed his ability to care for a “flock” as well as the individual. He was able to actualize his own potential, so who better to help the nation of Israel do the same.
The Israelites were stripped from their names and it wasn’t until Moshe came on the scene that they were able to rediscover who they were and begin their redemption. Moshe asked G-d, “When I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The G-d of your forefathers has sent me to you’ and they say to me ‘what is His Name?’ what shall I say to them?” G-d responds, “I Shall Be As I Shall Be.” This is the perfect response for the people at this time. The nation has not yet formed their identity. They are about to embark on a journey from slavery to freedom where they will ultimately develop a national identity. Until that time G-d is saying he will be for them what they need as they go through this process. This is necessary for it is impossible for them to relate to G-d on a level that they can’t even relate to themselves. They were going from slaves to a free people in the blink of an eye physically, but the mental change would not happen overnight.
The same holds true today. We may have started the redemption in 1948 when Israel became ours again, but it was only the beginning. G-d has been with us through the entire process during the highs and lows while letting us set the pace. In order to totally redeem ourselves, we must understand who we are as a nation and who we are as individuals. Our collective name is Israel, whose essence was declared in the Shema when the 12 tribes declared to Yakov, “Shema Yisrael HaShem EloKeinu HaShem Echad”. The essential ingredient of being an Israelite is to be united with all our sisters and brothers. At the same time, we must actualize the essence of our own individual names. Today we have the luxury of doing so, but are we brave enough? Are we brave enough to be our own unique selves while allowing others to do the same? Are we brave enough to accept those who differ from us and not feel threatened?
Until we figure out how to actualize our own unique potential while successfully meshing with everyone else we will remain in exile. An exile that we ourselves perpetuate.