We’re watching the uprising in Egypt hoping that a regime’s oppressive rule of its citizens will end. Yet, we’re also watching that regime react. They seek to hold onto their power, and if they can’t, they’ll want to manipulate the decision as to who rules after them.
We’re also concerned about what may come next. In so many conversations we ask each other, what will a different Egyptian government mean for Israel, and for the cold peace and stability between Israel and Egypt in a region so hostile to Israel?
Monitoring events, we want to see tyranny defeated. But, either as an expression of the Egyptian people’s right to self-rule or by political force, we don’t want something to emerge that threatens Israeli security.
The New York Times quotes an opposition law maker in Yemen, Shawki al-Qadi. “The street is not afraid of governments anymore. It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.”
Hoping for this outcome and following the news, I decided to look back into our people’s religious memory of Egypt.
In the Book of Exodus God tells Moses and the Children of Israel, “I am the Lord. I will take you out from under the burden of Egypt.” The 18th century Polish Rabbi Yitzhak Meir of Gur interprets this verse in a word play. The Hebrew word sivlot, which here means burden, can also mean tolerance.
Rabbi Yitzhak Meir explains that because they were oppressed for so many years, the Israelites became accustomed to being slaves. They developed a tolerance for their burden. They thought their circumstance was a normal one. The slaves couldn’t imagine a different way of life, let alone a better one.
According to this teaching, Moses’ first task was to convince the Israelites that freedom and its responsibilities are worth the wait and the effort. Moses had to prepare the people for their Exodus and the difficult journey ahead.
This is the real challenge facing the Egyptian people, and all of us concerned about what kind of government their revolt will produce. It seems many Egyptians can envision something better. So, from the outside we wonder.
Will someone or some group take the lead and help Egypt establish a genuine, open democracy? Or, as a result of the last 30 years, will Egyptian society continue to be forced to tolerate military dictatorship, or even worse, fall under the burden of Islamist rule?
In Torah, God intervenes to redeem Moses and the Children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. In the real world of the Middle East, hoping for dignity and democracy, we’re watching to see who will intervene in Egypt, and what will come next.