Parashat Shemot Erev Shabbat 5 January 2024 (5784)
Week of 31 December – 6 January 2024
Torah portion: Shemot 1:1-6:1   Haftarah:Isaiah  27:6-28:13. 29:22-23
Theme: A necessary non-forgetfulness

In the first chapter on Shemot, we find a memory ditch, because the book of Genesis ends with the note that “Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years” and was buried in Egypt (Genesis 50:26). In contrast, after recording the names of the children of Israel who went with Jacob to Egypt (Exodus 1:1-5), the Book of Exodus practically begins with a ditch by the narrator in a single verse: “And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation” (kol haddor hahú) (Exodus 1:6)

     Not much attention has been paid to this cemetery that separates the book of Exodus from the Book of Genesis. But, unless we are short-sighted or blind, we cannot fail to repair this rupture… or burial, given that in Exodus 1:6, with the death of Joseph and that entire generation: it seems that history and patriarchal memory suddenly disappears…

     Some studies that are more attentive to the progress of the biblical text or the biblical narrative, however, have not failed to notice this ditch in Exodus 1:6 and place it in relation to another ditch of memory found at the beginning of the Book of Judges, which reads: “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Adonai, at the age of 110 years, died. They buried him in the territory of their inheritance, in Timnat-Heres, on the mountain of Ephraim, north of Mount Naash. And also that whole generation (kol haddor hahu) gathered together to their fathers, and after them another generation arose who did not know Adonai, nor the work that Adonai had done in favor of Israel” (Judges 2:8-10).

     Here too the hero dies, in this case Joshua, also at the age of 110 years, like Joseph. And that entire generation also passes with him (kol haddor hahu). That generation also passes away that does not know Adonai or his wonderful gestures in favor of Israel, leaving there buried with the previous generation, the prodigious liberation from Egypt, the crossing of the desert, the gift of the commandments  on Sinai, the entry into the promised land, resulting from Death and memory loss. Thus we have the end of one path and beginning of another path. Perhaps as the Book of Deuteronomy insists on saying: the true cause of death is forgetting the path taken with Adonai, so “dying” means “losing memory”, not remembering (Deuteronomy 8:2.18; 9:7).

     Not investigating the future is a constant prohibition of Biblical Israel. Such an operation was not permitted. On the contrary, the Word of God and prayer instructed memory in waiting for God’s action and in the action of men and women who, remembering God’s action, act in the present of history. But God hears, remembers, sees and knows. After harsh slavery and forced labor by the pharaoh (Exodus 1:1-14; 5:5-21) and genocide of the Hebrews by the King of Egypt (Exodus 1:15-22), God pays attention to our problems (Exodus 2:23-25). The biblical God reveals Himself as the One who is with compassionate and passionate love; with passion (páthos) attentive to our lives and He intervenes in them in an active, passionate, near and committed way. Heschel, a great witness to the “páthos” or passion of God, showed us a God focused on the world and human beings.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Why, after all, can looking at the past of Israel’s Scriptures truly illuminate the present in history? 2. Can learning from God “to Hear, to Record, to See and to Know” help to avoid the graves still opened today by foolishness, alienation and suffering?

Bibliography: COUTO, ANTONIO. On this side of midnight – Getting through the crisis. Lisbon: Paulus, 2021, p. 26; C. DI SANTE. Dio e I suoi volti. Per una nuova teologia biblica. Cinisello Balsamo, San Paolo, 2014, p. 48.

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Fernando Gross, Brasil, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2017-2019

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