“Suddenly a person gets up in the morning and feels that he is a people and begins to walk. And he greets everyone he meets on his way.”
This verse from a Hebrew song always reminds me of the spiritual idea of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot. Israel was born as a human being and formed into a people. The book of Genesis – Bereshit – ends with 70 people in Jacob’s family emigrating to Egypt. Not a great number, considering God promised the three patriarchs they would become as numerous as the stars in the sky. Every time I look at the sky, I remember God’s call to Abraham as He led him into the desert:
“Look at the sky and count the stars if you can!” And he said to him, “So shall your seed be!” (Genesis 15:5)
And then the whole family leaves the Promised Land. What could Jacob have been thinking? The book of Exodus – Shemot – begins with a nation of 600,000 people.
Here is the aforementioned song “Shir BaBoker BaBoker” (Song in the Morning in the Morning), sung by Shlomo Artzi:
The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt and forgot themselves as a people. How do I know this? They forgot their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the burning bush in the desert, Moses begs God for help: “Behold, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ How should I answer them?” If the children of Israel had forgotten the name of their God, what else connected them as a Hebrew people in exile? Two hundred years, perhaps more, have passed, and “the new Pharaoh of Egypt knew nothing of Joseph,” but at the same time “the new generation of Israelites knew nothing of God.” Forgetting caused a lot of harm back then, but it is no different in our days. Don’t we forget God sometimes? Don’t we need to be reminded from time to time who our God and Savior is?
The biblical Exodus through the desert shaped Israel as a people. A process that humans must go through in order to understand their identity. The Children of Israel, then slaves, lost their identity because they had lost the identity of their God. “I am who I am,” was God’s answer to Moses’ question, but that can mean a lot. Only after 40 years in the desert did the people slowly understand again the content of “I am who I am!” God corrected His people through a process in the desert. God reintroduced Himself to His people by caring for them materially and spiritually. Along the way the people formed themselves into a nation, and at Mount Sinai, God gave His people a constitution, the Torah.
The appearance of clouds and fire before the people of Israel was spiritual aid from God. Clouds are often explained in the Bible in connection with the appearance of spiritual beings. The Almighty appeared in a cloud to lead the Israelites through the desert to the Promised Land and on Mount Sinai. Later, Jesus was also picked up by a cloud as he ascended into heaven. On the material level, God helped His people with the Tabernacles (Sukkot) in the desert. “You shall dwell in booths for seven days; all the inhabitants of the land of Israel shall dwell in booths, so that your descendants may know how I, the LORD your God, caused the children of Israel to live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt.”
These experiences are part of the memory of the Exodus from Egypt and the miracles that occurred as a basis for belief in God’s care for Israel throughout history until today. Often a necessary process to establish a new relationship between God and man.
How many nations and people has Israel encountered throughout its history? Israel brought God’s message to everyone, but not all nations warmly received it. For thousands of years, the people of Israel made the God of Israel known to the world, and often suffered for it. During these High Holy Days, we remember how God has brought us together as one nation, a people who are divided at this time but will one day be reconciled. People can forget God, but God does not forget His people. Our whole life is like the biblical Exodus of the Children of Israel, with all its stages and stations on the way to the Promised Land, to the messianic redemption. That is my prayer for our nation, but also for all our readers – much strength and wisdom to never give up on the path of God – even if it sometimes gets complicated.
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