Words of Torah: God in Exile with Us

When the Israelites found themselves a forgotten people, making bricks in Egypt, they had long ago lost the light. Enslaved, humiliated, they labored day after day in a dry, dust-bowl of forgetfulness. There was color, light, life, but they stopped seeing somewhere in the span of time after Jacob and long before Moses.

Sometimes hope eludes even Torah reading souls like us. The Israelites-in-bondage phenomenon repeats itself in our lives. Once, when we suspended the trivial and in the buzz of believing allowed divine light to kindle our soul-spark, we touched the sublime.

But then we forgot what the Israelites forgot. God is here.

anochi eired immechi, אָנֹכִי אֵרֵד עִמְּךָ, “I myself will go down with you.” It was what God said the Jacob when he and his clan left the promised land and descended to Egypt a long time before Moses.

hebrew, i myself will go down with you

The wording in Hebrew emphasizes by repetition that God personally will go into this exile in Egypt with them. The phrase says both “I” (אָנֹכִי) and “I will go down” (אֵרֵד). God promises clearly to go with them and be where they are in exile.

In Jewish thought, God experiences exile with his people to this day. The rabbis use 1 Samuel 2:27 (“did I reveal myself in Egypt?”) and Isaiah 43:14 (“for your sake I send to Babylon”) as proof-texts that where Israel was exiled, God was present.

In ancient exposition of the book of Numbers called Sifrei, the rabbis said, “Come and see how beloved Israel is before God; for wherever they went into exile, the Shechinah went with them.”

Before the world becomes dust, when we can still hear the music, these words of Torah call us to remember them. “I myself will go down with you.” If we do remember, and if remembrance becomes something we practice — such as through Jewish life, ritual, the prayerbook — then when we are thirsty to the death for hope, we will know where to find it.

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