Shemot: Growth in Adversity
Plaut P. 346
Source Sheet by Yair Robinson
(8) A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. (9) And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. (10) Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” (11) So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Raamses. (12) But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.
(ח) וַיָּ֥קׇם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃ (ט) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֶל־עַמּ֑וֹ הִנֵּ֗ה עַ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל רַ֥ב וְעָצ֖וּם מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ (י) הָ֥בָה נִֽתְחַכְּמָ֖ה ל֑וֹ פֶּן־יִרְבֶּ֗ה וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־תִקְרֶ֤אנָה מִלְחָמָה֙ וְנוֹסַ֤ף גַּם־הוּא֙ עַל־שֹׂ֣נְאֵ֔ינוּ וְנִלְחַם־בָּ֖נוּ וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יא) וַיָּשִׂ֤ימוּ עָלָיו֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מִסִּ֔ים לְמַ֥עַן עַנֹּת֖וֹ בְּסִבְלֹתָ֑ם וַיִּ֜בֶן עָרֵ֤י מִסְכְּנוֹת֙ לְפַרְעֹ֔ה אֶת־פִּתֹ֖ם וְאֶת־רַעַמְסֵֽס׃ (יב) וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
It once was that the rabbi went out with his students and he saw a tightrope walker. As the rabbi was walking down the street, the rabbi looked up and saw this person, walking on what appeared to be a tiny bit of line between two very tall buildings, three or four stories in the air. The rabbi watched with great attention as the person not only walked, but appeared to dance on this high wire, leaping from one leg to the next. The rabbi’s students were amazed that their rabbi was so absorbed in the spectacle of this dance. When it was over and the performer had climbed down, the rabbi went over a spoke with him for a moment. The students waited for the conversation to be over, and then went and asked what it was all about.
The rabbi explained to them, “This man walks a thin tight rope for payment and for the honor that awaits him once he reaches his destination. But I asked what the tightrope walker was thinking up there, at the moment that he is on that rope, suspended between Heaven and Earth. I was told that the tightrope walker does not think of money, or honor or anything, really. At that point, he is thinking of only one thing and that’s to keep his balance until he gets to the other end.”
What does it mean for each of us to keep our balance? What does it mean for us to do what we can in the world, balancing on the thinnest of wires, carrying out all the jobs in the world to the best of our abilities, all while trying to get to the other end? Like our ancestors, and like the tightrope walker, all we can do is cross without fear, and try to arrive safely.