As the Torah Turns
Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah
Exodus/Shemot – Ex. 1:1-6:1
This week we begin the book of Exodus/Shemot – Ex. 1:1-6:1. Hundreds of years have passed since Jacob and his family settled in Egypt under the protection of Joseph… And now, “a new king arose who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8) and the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt. Moses, saved from death by Pharaoh’s daughter, grows up in the palace, but does not stand idly by when he sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. He strikes the taskmaster – and kills him; realizing his own life is now in danger, he makes his way into the wilderness, marries the daughter of a Midianite priest, and becomes a shepherd. Upon taking his sheep into the wilderness, he turns to see a wonder – a bush is burning, but is not consumed…! (Ex. 3:2) Moses encounters God at this bush, and God tells him to “take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (Ex. 3:5) God has appeared to Moses to send him on a mission – Tell Pharaoh to let My people go; the time of liberation is at hand. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – rabbi, scholar and philosopher who marched right beside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – taught: “The road to the sacred leads through the secular… The Jewish form of religious experience is always in acts… in instilling a spiritual quality into the things we are doing.” [“No Time for Neutrality” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays. (1997)] And the things we should be doing are those things which seek to overthrow the “pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, and falsehoods.” [“On Prayer” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays. (1997)] And in these acts, holiness is found. In the inner city… in the posh neighborhoods… in the poverty-stricken mountains… in the arid plains… in the tent cities of refugees… Alas, the list goes on and on… Perhaps Woody Guthrie – singer, guitarist, songwriter, and social activist (1912–1967) – captured this sense of finding the holy wherever we find ourselves in his song “Holy Ground.” The words are Woody’s, from 1954, but the melody is by Frank London, a trumpeter and composer with the Klezmatics.
Words by Woody Guthrie, 1954, Music by Frank London (The Klezmatics), 2003
Take off, take off your shoes – This place you’re standing, it’s holy groundTake off, take off your shoes – The spot you’re standing, its holy ground These words I heard in my burning bush – This place you’re standing, it’s holy groundI heard my fiery voice speak to me – This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground That spot is holy holy ground – That place you stand it’s holy groundThis place you tread, it’s holy ground – God made this place his holy ground Take off your shoes and pray – The ground you walk it’s holy groundTake off your shoes and pray – The ground you walk it’s holy ground Every spot on earth I traipse around – Every spot I walk it’s holy groundEvery spot on earth I traipse around – Every spot I walk it’s holy ground Every spot it’s holy ground – Every little inch it’s holy groundEvery grain of dirt it’s holy ground – Every spot I walk it’s holy ground Here is a recording of “Holy Ground” by the Klezmatics:
Friends — Where is your burning bush? Where is your holy ground? How does it affect how we act in the world when we see the potential for holiness in every spot we walk?
From Previous Weeks
Joseph is called upon from the depths of his imprisonment, cleaned up, and brought to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams.
…Jacob responds to Esau’s embrace with a radical insight or formula…
“Surely God was in this place, and me, I did not know it!”
“I am old now and I do not know the day of my death” (Bereshit 27:2)