D’var Torah – Sh’mot

by Rabbi Josh Whinston

As we enter the new secular year of 2012, we also enter a new book of the Torah. Sh’mot (Exodus) begins the second Shabbat of January. As is well known, the narrative in Sh’mot focuses on the Israelites coming out of Egypt. Many chapters earlier in Torah, in the book of Genesis, God tells Abraham that the nation he is creating will one day be enslaved in Egypt but that God will free them after 400 years in slavery.

Of course, the Israelites are enslaved and spend hundreds of years down in Egypt, but how they come to be freed is the interesting part of the story. Exodus 2:23-24 says, “…and the people sighed because of the slavery, and they cried, and their cry came up to God because of the slavery. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and with Jacob.” I have always found these verses to be some of the most powerful verses in Torah. Yes, the promise was made with Abraham that God would take the people out of Egypt, but in these verses, it is almost as though God forgot about the Israelites. It took the Israelites crying out to God for God to notice and begin the redemption. We may even say that redemption begins when people have had enough and cry out to God. In the story of the exodus from Egypt, we are reminded that redemption begins when we ask.

It may be the popular notion of grace, the idea that God acts in our lives even though we may be undeserving, that has colored our experience of the relationship between people and the Divine. While Judaism certainly maintains a notion of grace (in Hebrew we call it chen) it is clear from the Exodus narrative that grace is not the only way that God acts in our lives. Sometimes, and maybe even most of the time, we need to call out, we need act first, we need to ask.

Prayer is the most well known way that we connect with God. In our sanctuary we strive for an environment where all feel comfortable, like the Israelites, to cry out to God. While our student cantor Sara and I both sing in a loud voice, our volume should never suggest that only the leaders should be heard. In our Exodus narrative it was not Moses’ voice that brought about the redemption, it was the communal cry that began the process. We encourage every person in our sanctuary, from the youngest to the oldest to cry out to God with singing and clapping. It is certainly in the mingling of our voices that gives communal prayer its strength, and thus helps or prayers quickly reach up to God. Cry out, sing out and may God hear all of our prayers.


Rabbi Josh Whinston serves as the rabbi of Temple Beth David of Cheshire, CT.


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