It is a very interesting exercise to try and express one’s personal narrative. When thinking of my own narrative, I often speak of critical junctions in my childhood and my young professional life to tell you who I am. I usually talk about my parents and where I was born and what kind of family I was born into. And if you ask my parents to talk about their narrative of me they will likely talk about my birth and critical junctions in my life from their perspective as parents. There may be differences, but I think much would be similar.
During the retelling of the Ten Commandments, which occurs in this week's Parsha, Va’Ethanan, our narrative is invoked by Moshe as he acts as intermediary for God’s message. “I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage/אָֽנֹכִי֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣֥ית עֲבָדִֽ֑ים׃”.
The Sfas Emes raises an interesting question on this first of the famous commandments. He asks, why does it not say , “The God who created you”? Why does the Torah emphasize the exodus from Egypt? He answers by saying that God wanted us to know and feel the true essence of divinity in our souls. And the grace of God is fully understood when remembering the darkness of Egypt that we were brought out of in favor of the light of God, Torah and the Land of Israel. This is the narrative we should know and repeat. And it is mentioned in this version of the commandments as the reason for Shabbat as well.
That is why Shabbat is often called “A Testimony/״סהדותא. When we observe and rest on Shabbat, we give testimony to the true narrative of our God and us as a people. God’s true essence was revealed in our being brought out of Egypt. And our mission is to bring that essential light into this world.
As we enter Shabbat Nahamu, the first Shabbat of comfort and consolation after Tisha B’Av, let us find comfort in thinking of the essential qualities of those we love. If we cherish not just their presence, but what makes them unique, we will better understand how to appreciate the gifts they have to offer. And we can give testimony to their beauty and holiness as God’s children.
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.