I am writing about the core narratives in Judaism and Christianity as reflected in Psalms 105:26-45 and Acts 2:22-24 respectively. I am comparing and contrasting these scriptures. To me, they are simplistic yet complex in nature as they explain the underlying narrative of each religion.
Thank you for exploring these questions, and especially, for your service to our country.
Your question deserves a nice Jewish answer - so I have one for you: yes and no.
To explain my answer, I first need to define what I mean by the Exodus, and how I understand your question. The story of the Exodus from Egypt begins with Exodus 1:1 and ends with the last verse of Deuteronomy - and contains everything in the middle. As you thought, that narrative is the central and defining narrative of Jewish tradition.
In your question, you describe the Exodus as "God's plan for the redemption of his people." That is not the way I generally think about it. Yes, the text specifically says that this is all according to God's plan. However, for me, it is more about our experience (in which God of course is the driving force) of moving from Egyptian slavery through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness towards the Promised Land. In other words, my response is less theological and more humanistic (although I am not a humanist, but a religious Jew). I do not think that the Exodus went the way God planned, because we Israelites had a way of stubbornly getting in our own way over and again. So, for example, in Psalm 105 there is a reference to God providing quail - but that happened two times, and the second was actually a punishment for how we complained that we were tired of manna and had better food in Egypt - so that the quail came until it was coming out of our nostrils (Num. 11:1-20).
What I am trying to express is that the Exodus, as the primary narrative of the Jewish people is less about God's plans and more about the nexus where we and God meet. It is about God's extraordinary generosity, and reliability. It is about remembering that we have humble origins, that our successes are tied to God, and that in turn helps to remind us to be humble, to look after each other (and not just other Jews BTW), and most especially those who are most vulnerable in our community. It connects us to God intimately and profoundly, and it connects us to each other. As the genetic descendants of the Israelites, it is also our family story and we read it as such.
Before I ramble on any further, let me try to reel this in with a more concise frame. The story of the Exodus (as I define it), is in my opinion the central and defining narrative of Jewish tradition - everything else that follows is in some way connected to this story. However, the Exodus itself is predicated on another, more theological frame, which is the covenant between Israel and God, as first expressed by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Exodus is definitive because it demonstrates God's fulfillment of the covenantal promise and reminds us to make sure to do our part. However, it is one moment in time, and the story is repeated in one way or another in each generation. My teacher Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman writes that Jewish spirituality can be summed up as the repeating cycle of exile and return. The Exodus was the first great return from exile, and most dramatic. Yet for us as individuals and as a people, this is a recurring experience. In other words, it is not just that the Exodus is what we build everything on, but rather something we are still experiencing.
I hope this helps. Good luck with the paper!
Rabbi Gary Pokras
Anyone familiar with the Game of Thrones series (whether in its printed or video forms) knows the phrase: “winter is coming.” Filled with ominous foreboding, these words are intended to inspire caution so that we will prepare for the very worst we can imagine, because in the story-line it is coming – and then some.
Here in Western New York, we are no strangers to cold and long winters. February (and sometimes January) have always felt like the coldest months to me. If you live anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line chances are that you are also feeling the cold; and if you are recovering from the big blizzard in the mid-atlantic region you might also be wishing for an early spring!
“Winter is coming” is a terrifying concept. As Jews we have lived in “cold” times of crisis, when anti-Semitism grew and we faced ever-increasing persecution, harm and even death. However, “winter is coming” is not really a Jewish approach to life.
What is a Jewish approach?
This evening we will celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the new year of the trees. Tu B’Shvat is one of my favorite Jewish holidays, because it recognizes that there is more to winter than meets the eye. Tu B’Shvat boldly proclaims that winter is not a time of death. Rather, it is the time when, hidden beneath the surface, the process of new life is already beginning. Tu B’Shvat reminds us to look beyond the surface, and to recognize that when it feels like all is winter, God is with us - and “spring is coming.”
[This letter, to which I am proud to attach my name, was published in the Buffalo News on January 14. I consider it a true blessing to be able to partner with the Reverend George Nicholas of Concerned Clergy, Bishop R. William Franklin of the Episcopal Church and Bishop Richard Malone of the Catholic Church in the fight against poverty here in Buffalo.]
By George Nicholas and R. William Franklin
Pope Francis has said that in a world with so much wealth and so many resources, it is unfathomable that so many live in poverty. He calls poverty in today’s world a “scandal.” Poverty strips people of their dignity. To see it so rampant in our city is indeed a scandal.
While Francis speaks as the leader of the Catholic Church, the truths about which he speaks transcend Catholicism and even Christianity. Across faiths, there is a call to ensure dignity for everyone.
Whether that sentiment is expressed as “love your neighbor as yourself,” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or to “regard your neighbor’s loss as your own,” the command is the same – to work toward the dignity of all of God’s children.
As clergy, we feel the call to heed this commandment. It guides our actions and shapes our ministries. It has foundational significance for each of our religions and allows us to reach across faiths to unite with the singular goal of alleviating poverty in Buffalo.
Our historic union of religious leaders established a working group to discuss how we could better the economic circumstances of our brothers and sisters in Buffalo.
As we explored options, we heard from many that another “handout” was not the answer. Social programs serve as safety nets and don’t provide permanent solutions to the problems of unemployment, underemployment or the absence of opportunities. It is said that the highest rung on the ladder of charity is to “help people help themselves.” This is what people are asking for – a strategic effort to bring opportunities to the most impoverished sections of Buffalo.
To this end, we put our collective voices behind the efforts of Assemblyman Sean Ryan and call for the establishment of the Hiring and Investing in Real Employment program (HIRE Buffalo) to connect high-quality jobs to the sections of the city facing extreme concentrations of poverty.
We are grateful for the economic boom that has come to Buffalo. But, if a decade from now, businesses have brought jobs to the area, yet portions of our city still have a poverty rate over 50 percent, then the economic renaissance is a mirage. The measure of true resurgence is found not in how much wealth the rich can accumulate, but by how many we can lift out of poverty.
The poverty rate was a key reason Gov. Andrew Cuomo established the Buffalo Billion. We call on Empire State Development to complete the circle and connect the jobs coming to Buffalo with our brothers and sisters in need.
It is our duty to live a life that protects the dignity of everyone; it is also our duty to call on others to do the same.
[In addition to the Rev. George Nicholas and Bishop R. William Franklin, this letter was signed by Bishop Richard J. Malone and Rabbi Gary Pokras.]
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2018 by Rabbi Gary Pokras