In this week’s reading, Egyptians resent the rise in the Hebrew population. The Pharaoh orders the chief midwives to cull male births. Xenophobic politics were fuelled by a jealousy of the Hebrews, who had been allowed to live in the best part of Egypt, a privileged location called Goshen.
The Egyptians, who had been urbanised and feudalised by Joseph sought economic revenge on the now populous Hebrews by using them as free labour.
Moses, saved by the daughter of Pharaoh, grows up in the royal palace, ignorant of the fate of his enslaved brethren for many years. He decides to see for himself and witnesses the cruel beating of a Hebrew slave.
He fatally strikes down the attacker and is forced to flee for fear of retribution to the territory of Midian. His first encounter is with another harassment of the vulnerable at a well of water; that of seven shepherdesses, who happen to all be the daughters of the Priest of Midian.
Moses marries the eldest daughter, Zipporah, and settles down to shepherd his father-in-law’s flocks. God appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush and instructs him to approach the Pharaoh and tell him to release the people from slavery. Moses initially refuses the mission, pleading ineloquence. God reacts angrily and deputes Aaron to be his spokesman.
The news of impending redemption begins to spread among the Hebrews, who initially have little faith in better times. At first, the people appear to be right to reject hope of a redemption, as Moses and Aaron’s demand for freedom prompts the Pharaoh to impose even worse conditions of slavery.
The plagues have yet to strike Egypt: when they do, Pharaoh’s unwillingness to release the Israelites from slavery will begin to change. The freedom to follow a religion and exercise a cultural identity remains an eternal symbol of our people.
The recent statement by a Jordanian Imam insisting on the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount carries the message that holy places ought to unite us when we share them, and not divide us and threaten the freedom to worship. Jews, Christians and Muslims can best focus on worshipping God side by side. Many good results can develop from the trust this creates.
• Rabbi Ariel Abel is consultant to For Life Projects in Lancashire. He will give a lecture entitled “Keeping off the Temple Mount: Halachic Requirement or Political Fear?” On Sunday 11 January at 8pm at the Maccabi Centre in Manchester