Interactions: Isn’t It Time 9

A few more words on ” Coming Forth” from the Narrow Place, followed by this episode’s main topic: Interactions.

Isn’t it Time? Episode 9

Podcast Transcript

A few more words on ” Coming Forth” from the Narrow Place before moving on to this episode’s main topic: Interactions.

Sources referenced can be found at

Segregation and Coming Forth

What would it mean for us, collectively, to “come forth from Mitzrayim“?

The 20th Century Italian teacher, Umberto Cassuto (1883–1951) finds a clue in the way God’s name is introduced in The Book of Exodus.

Early in Exodus, Moses receives his mission at the Burning Bush and then meets up with his brother Aaron to approach Pharaoh. The two brothers bring God’s “Let My People Go” demand to Pharaoh for the first time, leading to changes to working conditions that worsen the people’s burden, and resulting in more distrust and anger toward Aaron and Moses. At this point, God speaks to Moses, saying:

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty [El Shaddai], not by My name YHVH…”

— Exodus 6:3

This is an odd thing for God to say, given that “YHVH” was already used several times and Moses was already told several times to share the name (Ex 3:6,15,18; 5:1ff). So, what does it mean, this “but (by) my name YHVH I was not known”? What is it that is still unknown?

Cassuto argues that this references a future experience, that the people won’t really know a divine Liberator — won’t know YHVH (the 4-letter name for God, “I Will Be Who I Will Be”) — until collectively experiencing getting out from under the “sivlot,” the burdens, or, as discussed in Episode 8, the “Millstone that is Mitzrayim.”

Similarly, we ourselves cannot know God as Liberator until we’ve collectively experienced that getting out.

It is worth noting in this context, one step that Moses takes en route to leadership Just as soon as he grows up — in the same verse, in fact, Exodus 2:11 (see Sefaria Sheet for “Coming Forth”) — Moses “goes out to his kin” and sees their sivlotam, the weight of the system in which they labored.

Ancient commentary on this verse remarks on this “seeing” here. Rashi, based on Shemot Rabbah, says that Moses “set his eyes and mind to share in their distress.” The 13th Century Spanish rabbi, known as Nachmanides or Ramban, relates this “going out to his kin” to formation and declaration of Moses’ identify as a Hebrew. In both cases, and in many other commentaries, this verse is understood as a moment when Moses forms some kind of connection with the Yisraelite people and their sufferings.

Becoming proximate to his kin is a key element in this process.

There is a great deal of commentary imagining Moses’ relationship to the Hebrews — or lack thereof — before this moment. The text itself tells us nothing except that he was kept with his birth family as an infant — until the point when his existence could no longer be hidden — and then his birth mother served as his nursemaid before she brought him to the palace, where the Daughter of Pharaoh had adopted him as her son. We are left to imagine if/how the palace interacted with Moses’ family or extended kin circles.

Interactions and Segregation

And we know almost nothing about interaction between ordinary Yisraelites and Mitzrayim-ites. It is not even clear where the two groups lived, relative to one another.

One of many viewpoints is offered by R’ Benno Jacob:

The details of our story suggest that [the Yisraelites] were scattered throughout [Mitzrayim], which must have led to many personal friendships; only a systematically encouraged hate propaganda was able to change this.
— B. Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible p.343

This viewpoint may seem unremarkable, if a little preachy… until considering that Benno Jacob (1862-1945) was born in Breslau and lived in Germany during the Third Reich.

Watching synagogues burn and community members shipped off to concentration camps, he continued to indict “a systematically encouraged hate propaganda,” rather than the neighbors. This perspective strongly affirms the humanity of all involved — it also raises questions about segregation, friendship, and hate.

In addition, R’ Jacob argues that Mitzrayim-ites engaged in “clear public protest against the policies of the royal tyrant,” and that Moses was continuing to work for “peace between the two peoples” (The Second Book of the Bible, p. 343-4). The picture he draws is one in which individual Mitzrayim-ites have no more power over the tyrant’s policies than do the Yisraelites.

R’ Jacob suggests that individuals, Mitzrayim-ite or Yisraelite, are relatively powerless in the face of Pharaoh’s policies and “systematically encouraged hate.” What about our lives today —

What power do we have over policy and hate?

Do we experience “systematically encouraged hate”? If so, how has it affected relationships between community groups and individuals?

R’ Jacob argues that existing personal friendships were changed through propaganda: Might a counter-effort have helped them survive?

History is filled with individual friendships surviving, and ameliorating short-term effects of, oppression: What about the long-haul? Does friendship become untenable if systemic conditions are not addressed?

Links to materials exploring the history of segregation in Washington DC are available on the Sefaria source sheet.

It’s still Adar, a month for increasing joy — one way to do that is by joining in reflection and action that overturns evil.

Subscribe here or through podcasting apps and consider signing up for the Isn’t It Time discussion platform at Thinkific.

This is Virginia Avniel Spatz saying: “Isn’t It Time to Reread Exodus?” Peace

Published by vspatz

Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages, blogs on general stuff a and more Jewish topics at and

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