Shabbat Shalom and thank you for attending my Bat Mitzvah. I have a few special thanks to tender. First of all, I would like to thank Marcy Epstein for her leadership in my early Jewish learning. I would also like to thank Elisabeth and Neil Epstein for helping me learn the torah and haftorah blessings, Rabbi Eliott for welcoming me into the Jewish community with the Brit Shalom and for working with me and my family to craft a wonderful Bat Mitzvah service, and most of all, I want to thank Molly Kraus-Steinmetz – who will always be Big Molly to me – for tutoring me, her first student, in Torah, and for baby-sitting me when I was young.
This weeks’ parsha starts at the very beginning of Exodus. Joseph’s generation of Hebrews in Egypt has died out, and a new Pharaoh has ascended to the throne- a Pharaoh who never knew Joseph and his significance to the past Pharaoh.
Pharaoh says “Let us deal shrewdly with him, so that he may not increase; otherwise in the event of war he may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” That is a translation of one of the lines in my portion. First, notice that Pharaoh uses the term “he” to refer to the Hebrews, rather than the plural; “them.” In a healthy societal culture, humans must be recognized as such, not as being one indiscernible mass. If we recognize people as individuals, only then can we respect them enough to treat them as fellow humans, worthy of respect and love. There might have even been intermarriage and a merging of peoples between the Egyptians and the Hebrews, much as took place between the French and Anishinaabeg in Michigan. You can’t intermarry with “him,” but you can intermarry with “them.”
Earlier, in line seven, it says, “but Israel’s sons bore fruit and swarmed and multiplied and proliferated greatly, greatly so the land was filled with them.” You might notice the choice of the word swarm. Swarm like animals, like mice, like mosquitoes, like- dare I say- frogs, lice, flies, and locusts? This again comes back to what sort of becomes a theme of treating the Hebrews as less than human.
One question I’d like to ask you is, at what point do poor conditions become less than human? At what point does treatment become inhuman? For those of you that attended Brenna’s Bat Mitzvah, she talked about the meaning of enoughness; but when does less than enoughness become less than human?