It seems almost appropriate that this week’s Torah portion is read on the cusp of a new year as it represents a transitional time for the Israelite people. We have just ended the book of Bereshit (Genesis). The Israelites have found hope in Mitzrayim against the famine of Canaan. Now in the first portion in the book of Shemot (Exodus), the hope is gone. First we hear about the descendants of Joseph, tying this section with the previous book. It only takes a few sentences, though, to change everything. In Shemot 1:5 we see the line that changes the trajectory of the Jewish people: “Vayikam Melech Chadash…A new king arose who knew not Joseph.”
I’ve always wondered, what happened in the generations since Joseph to take the Israelites from protected status to slaves? Did Joseph’s descendants do something to disgrace their community? Or, was there a post-Joseph hit to the economy that make the leadership and people seek out a scapegoat? Was it similar to what happened in Germany during the early 20th century? Could it happen in 21st century United States if we listen to some of our candidates?
The Rabbis tell us that the Torah came to us as black fire on white fire. The black fire is the text and the white fire is the space around the text. Perhaps we should listen to the silences as much as the text. We learn from the events in Mitzrayim that rights can disappear as quickly as they are given. People can change, as well as nations. Perhaps it is only with vigilance and attention to detail that we can protect our rights. Speak up. Fight back, even if it is only on Twitter and Facebook. And most importantly, VOTE! 2016 is going to be a tough year. We are going to be slammed with candidates’ emails, snail mail, phone calls, polls, and rhetoric of all kinds. We must not turn away. We need to pay attention and VOTE! Not just in presidential primaries and elections but in Congressional elections, state elections, and local elections. VOTE! It’s not just how we change our world. It’s how we protect our world.