In rereading this week’s Torah portion, parashat Shemot, a snapshot from the recesses of my past floated into my mind. During my undergraduate studies in Boulder, while working towards a degree in English literature, I completed several courses in architecture and fine arts. For one such class, I did a pencil drawing of my hand drawing a hand drawing an image of the world, and I was reminded of my Escher-esque image as I read, “…for through a strong hand will he send them out, and with a strong hand will he drive them from his land.”
Our hands encapsulate so much of what we are and what we are not. With a closed fist, our hands can destroy. With an open palm, we can offer our softness and care. With the back of our hand, we reveal our guarded selves. And with hand extended outwards, we acknowledge another’s presence and dignity.
This week’s Torah reading suggests not a message of power but rather that we become empowered through compassion. Israel was redeemed with an outstretched arm and a strong hand. Our narrative describes the transformation of enslaved to free, and our tradition reminds us that there is power in empathy and kindness—the power to carry another’s burden. To redeem the captive. To house the orphan. To care for the widow.
This time of year reminds us of the calling to use our hands with compassion and mercy, for they have the power to create new worlds.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Rabbi Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.