There is a passage in this week’s sedra that we read this Shabbat but also at the seder. It’s the passage often translated as “A Syrian sought to destroy my father”. It contains a brief synopsis of the story of the Exodus, about our survival against all odds, our persecution and our redemption.
However, the straight meaning of the passage’s words is that our ancestor, Abraham, was a wandering Syrian. The passage itself was to be recited on bringing the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. If the fruits were too plentiful, or you lived far away, you would buy fruit to use for this purpose in the Temple. This was why there were money-changers there.
A Jew in Britain today cannot fail to feel the irony of this passage, at the same time the formula for recitation on doing our duty to God, and also a reminder that in every generation people tried to destroy us. The rabbis’ play on the word oved (wandering) to make it into Ibed (enslaved) brings out part of the paradox of being a Jew in modernity – we seek to do our duty and at the same time others seek to enslave us.
A second passage in the second aliyah on tithes reminds us of our duty and desires. We are not to short-change the Levite or the poor. This second aliyah ends with eretz zavat chalav u-d’vash – a land flowing with milk and honey.
After a summer crammed with progressively vile revelations of anti-Semitism, these first two readings in our portion remind us to do our duty as Jews whatever the opposition, and to remain faithful to our desire to see Israel strong and successful.
- Rabbi Zvi Solomons serves the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB) in Reading