January 13, 2024 | 3 Shvat 5784
Torah: Exodus 6:2–9:35 Triennial: Exodus 7:8–8:15
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25–29:21
We believe that in times of great strife, words of Torah can provide stability and comfort in our lives.
We know that you join us in praying for the safety of our soldiers and citizens, and that together we mourn the terrible losses already suffered.
We stand together for a strong and secure Israel.
Shabbat Shalom from Bruce Washburn:
Praying with Palms
We like to talk about praying with our feet. When the world seems impossible, action becomes a more satisfying response than prayer. We do, we move, we change, we build a better world. Abraham Joshua Heschel reportedly made the line known in our community in the wake of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. And in our story, in Exodus, in just a few short chapters we, too, will pray with our feet. We will get up and go, leaving Egypt behind us.
But in our parashah, we are not there yet. We are not ready to pray with our feet. Instead, Moses prays with his hands. Moses stretches out his palms to God on Pharaoh’s behalf. Pharaoh begs Moses to plead with God to stop the thunder and the hail. And Moses does, taking Pharaoh’s plea in his hands and offering it up to God.
Praying with palms sits opposite praying with feet. To pray with feet is to do. To pray with palms in to acknowledge that there is nothing more to be done. To pray with palms is to open your hands and show that they are empty. You have nothing more to give; you have reached the point where you can only hope to receive. To pray with palms is to turn yourself into a vessel, to make a hollow with your body, hoping that God will fill it.
There are only three people who pray like this in the Tanakh: Moses, Solomon, and Ezra. Each of them is praying on behalf of someone else, each of them becomes a vessel to transmit hope back to the hopeless. Solomon and Ezra spread the palms in prayer on behalf of Israel around the construction of the First and Second Temples, respectively. In deeply humble prayers, they explain their unworthiness to build the Temple. As Solomon says, “the heavens and the heavens of the heavens cannot contain you! How could this house which I have built?” Solomon and Ezra open their palms, making their hands, and the hands of their communities, into an instrument of God. There is beautiful humility in their hand opening.
Why does Moses praying for Pharaoh share company with Solomon and Ezra praying for Israel upon the building of the Temple? Moses is merely praying for the hail to stop. Moses is praying for our enemy. Moses is praying for a respite from destruction, not a construction of God’s earthly home.
But there is something different about this plague, the seventh plague. This time, some Egyptians have preemptively acknowledged God’s power and have followed instructions to save themselves. This time, Pharaoh recognizes his own wrongdoing. Pharaoh blames himself and not God for the harm brought on his own people by the plague of hail. He says, “I stand guilty this time. God is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.”
In this moment, Pharaoh joins company with Israel. Just as Solomon and Ezra’s penitential prayers begin with a recognition of the guilt of their people, so too does Pharaoh acknowledge his guilt for Moses. Pharaoh becomes a model for us. He demonstrates to us something that we will not do for hundreds of years, not do until Solomon builds the First Temple. Pharaoh, the ultimate foreigner, the paradigm of evil who tried to wipe us out, becomes, briefly, our teacher. What is built in that moment is not the Temple but rather the people to pray in the Temple. Pharaoh’s admission of guilt and Moses’s subsequent prayer allow for the construction of the Israelite people. Moses prays with his palms, allowing us to pray with our feet. We rise up and leave in just a few short chapters, leaving destruction in our wake. But it is from this destruction that palms open. It is from the resulting humility that a people and even a dwelling for God on earth can be built.