Thursday, April 12, 2012

The End of the Exodus - Thursday Kavvanah, 4/12/2012

Where does the Exodus story end?  With the conclusion of the book of Exodus?  When the Israelites enter the land of Israel?  Or, as one of today's morning minyan attendees quipped, is it still going on?

Tomorrow is the last day of Pesah.  (OK, so not really, except in Israel.  The Torah tells us that this holiday is seven days long, and we in the Diaspora must suffer an extra hametz-free day just to remind us that we are in exile, so it really ends on Saturday night, April 14.  That's 14% more Pesah*.)

One would think that we would conclude this festival with a Torah reading that marks the conclusion of the story, and we do.  But it is something of a judgment call on the part of the (ancient) rabbis as to the conclusion.  To make Pesah fit neatly into the rabbinic overlay of the year, it can't be the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, because that goes with Shavuot.  It can't be the end of the book of Exodus, because all that happens is that the mishkan / tabernacle is built and the Shekhinah, God's presence, moves in, and what would we do with that?  It can't be the entry of the Israelites into Israel because, frankly, that does not occur until the book of Joshua, which is not among the Five Books of Moses.

Instead, we mark the end of Pesah by chanting Shirat HaYam, the song that the Israelites sang upon crossing the Sea of Reeds and arriving safely at the other side (Exodus 15).  It's a good choice: celebratory, joyous, and marking the conclusion of a difficult chapter while hinting that there is more to come (Ex. 15:17):
תְּבִאֵמוֹ, וְתִטָּעֵמוֹ בְּהַר נַחֲלָתְךָ--  מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ פָּעַלְתָּ, יְהוָה; מִקְּדָשׁ, אֲדֹנָי כּוֹנְנוּ יָדֶיךָ
You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain
The place You made to dwell in, O Lord.

Is it clear that this is the end of the Exodus?  No.  But it is certainly a milestone on the path home, a kind of euphoric rest area on the Sinai-Israel highway.

Hag sameah!

Rabbi Seth Adelson

* This year there is no real Israeli advantage because the seventh day is followed immediately by Shabbat, and one may not prepare non-Pesah food for Shabbat during Pesah, even with the "eruv tavshilin," the permission to prepare food on yom tov for Shabbat.  So the whole Jewish world is suffering for all eight days.

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