So far, Rereading Exodus for 2023 has considered social location, relating to the various characters and places in the Exodus story, and the importance of starting points. This episode looks at Ending Points.
Isn’t It Time? Episode 6
The only extra source for this episode is Zora Neale Hurston’s 1939 Moses, Man of the Mountain. This podcast includes brief quotations from the book and a strong recommendation to check out this novel if you have not already done so.
Literature and real life tend toward three basic endpoints:
- Sometimes the whole point is to get out;
- sometimes the journey has a pre-determined destination;
- and sometimes the aim is the journey itself.
A very cursory look at Exodus often relates escape from Mitzrayim as dramatic, decisive and final: Oppression behind us; freedom ahead; halleluyah!
But the story is longer and messier than we sometimes remember, and not nearly as final. Even after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, there are 27 more chapters of Exodus and then the next three books of the Bible, all in the wilderness. The Torah closes, forty years on, an entire generation having perished on the journey and a river still to cross.
- as a story about getting out of the Narrow Place;
- as a journey to a “better place,” a new home toward which Moses has been told to lead the people and/or “back home,” from the perspective of Genesis;
- as a journey, centered in Jewish holiday and Torah reading cycles that keeps us wandering in a wilderness which is part home, part exile.
In Moses, Man of the Mountain, Zora Neale Hurston describes Moses reflecting, at the end of his life and work, as the People stand at the Jordan river:
[Yisrael] was at the Jordan inside as well as out. Perhaps he had done as much as was possible for one man to do for another. He had put the future in their hands to do with it according to their hearts and their talents….
He had given [Yisrael] back the notes to songs. The words would be according to their own dreams, but they would sing. They had songs and singers….
— Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain, p.283
NY: Harper, 1991 (originally published 1939)
The leader is aware, in Hurston’s telling as in many commentaries, of the ongoing trauma of Mitzrayim, the many who never made it out, the cost of the trek and the price still to be paid.
Hurston’s 1939 readers were expected to see parallels between the ancient drama and both Black experience in the U.S. and the rise of Nazism worldwide. The “better place” had yet to materialize, and eighty-plus years after Hurston’s writing, we’re still in the same spot. With fascism again — or still — on the rise, we have much work to do toward understanding race and how it works in our overlapping Jewish and Black contexts.
Hurston’s Moses, standing at the Jordan, considers: “If he had failed in his highest dreams he had succeeded in others. Perhaps he had not failed so miserably as he sometimes felt.” (ibid, p.283)
This moment is built into the Jewish holiday and Torah cycles for us to encounter every year. It might seem a gloomy moment. But it’s also a hopeful one…because we know that each year, we can show up better prepared for the next time around. We can approach perennial challenges with fresh energy and new allies.
Earlier in her telling of the Exodus story, Hurston describes Moses, before the Burning Bush, a young man on the run from Mitzrayim and uncertain about his own heritage and destiny:
All night he traveled and thought. He found his unformed wishes taking shape. He was wishing for a country he had never seen. He was seeing visions of a nation he had never heard of where there would be more equality of opportunity and less difference between top and bottom.
— Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain, p.283
We can join THAT Moses in envisioning a future we know that we have not even fully imagined yet. We can look at the Exodus narrative new this time.
Some questions to consider:
What is the journey’s aim?
With a view to “getting out” — What Narrow Place are you attempting to escape this year? What Narrow Place does your community need to leave behind?
Considering a “better place” — Do you have a destination in mind, as you leave the Narrow Place? What do you envision, at the end of the road, for your community?
On this journey — Is there something essential to be learned from the wilderness itself? How might your community benefit from accepting that some things have been left behind, while the destination is still out of sight?
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It’s Adar! Time to increase our joy by joining in reflection and action that builds for a better future.
This is Virginia Avniel Spatz saying: “Isn’t It Time to Reread Exodus?”