Here’s a question to ponder about our biblical narrative: what would have happened if, at any point, God had decided that the Jewish people were not worthy of redemption? Or worthy of receiving the Torah? It’s a question without an answer because it hypothetically negates the existence of Judaism altogether. However, at certain times in the Torah, we see what happens when God seems to consider the worthiness and the future of the Israelites.
This week we begin the book of Shemot with the parshah of the same name. Shemot leads us quickly through the change in leadership in Egypt as a new Pharaoh, one who isn’t so keen on the Israelites, decrees that all males born should be put to death. Thankfully the midwives ignore this decree, and Moshe is kept alive. As an adopted Egyptian, Moshe joins the palace, but later learns he’s an Israelite. He flees out of fear for his life, marries a Midianite woman, and starts his own family.
In chapter two, we learn how God observed the Israelite nation: “God looked upon the Israelites.” This verse implies that God was checking on the people to see exactly how they were handling this latest stumbling block in their journey. An ancient commentator conjures the image of God observing the Israelites to see the choices they make. Were they fighting and competing with one another? Or, were they working together? Despite their misery, God sees the Israelites trying to help one another instead of each person only looking out for themselves. When one finished a task, that person would help another finish their job. Therefore, it’s because of this teamwork that God sees the Israelites as worthy of being freed from Pharoah’s harsh labor.
Imagine being an Israelite in Egypt with the new king who enforced harsh physical labor on the community. There were quotas to fill and deadlines to be had. They could have easily adopted an “every person for themselves” mentality, but the Israelites knew the best way – perhaps the only way – forward was to work together. Yes, God provided the circumstances and the leader for their redemption, but this unity of purpose is what led the Israelites out of slavery and into the world where Judaism became our religion.
As they say, teamwork makes the dream work. As a community, we support one another, even when it might not always be the easiest of work. The survival of our people has always hinged on knowing when to support one another, putting aside competition, and instead standing together. That’s how we continue to prove we are indeed worthy.