by Rabbi Cornelia Dalton
January and the month of Shvat contain one of my favorite stories in the Torah. This month, we close out the book of Genesis and make our way into the book of Exodus, and with it the story of Moses and the children of Israel. My favorite part of the story comes after the Israelites have been struggling for some time, after God and Moses have already met and started their relationship. In Parshat Vaera, God says to Moses: “Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through great judgments.” When Moses delivers the message to the children of Israel, however, they won’t listen to him, “their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.”
How relatable! It is terribly hard to hope when our spirits are down, to believe that the world can be better and brighter than it is, that anything will change. It can feel safer not to listen and to sit in our suffering.
How comforting, also, to know that our tradition contains within it stories of hope and resilience, stories of redemption and deliverance coming to those in need.
In the Chiddushei HaRim, the Gerrer Rebbe Yitzhak Meir Rotenberg Alter (1799-1866) comments on the plague of darkness that later comes to the Egyptians. There is no greater darkness, he writes, than one in which “a man did not see his fellow”—in which a person becomes oblivious to the needs of his fellow man.
Perhaps this is why the image of the outstretched arm has always struck me as such a moving and inspiring one. As God reaches out a (metaphorical) arm to us, so we, too, reach out our arms to those who are in need. In an hour of darkness, we can be a light to our neighbors and those in need.
This January, like every January, I am reminded of James Taylor’s song “Shed A Little Light,” often played on MLK Day. In it, he writes: “We are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong. We are bound by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead.”
As we enter 2021, with news of a vaccine and changes on the horizon, we certainly have big tasks ahead of us. We are reminded of how bound we are to one another in our successes and failures. May the hope that this news brings, and the knowledge of our connection, help buoy us in our moments of darkness and difficulty.