This week marks both the end of the book of Genesis in our annual cycle of Torah readings, and of the year 2017.
Much has happened, both in Genesis and in our modern world. As we begin to read the book of Exodus, we will find the Jewish people in a very different part of their history. Suddenly, the Pharaoh does not know Joseph, and the story of a people who grew wealthy and powerful becomes one of a people who are enslaved.
For us, our stories continue much as they have over the past year; people are still buying guns and turning the weapons on themselves in record numbers, while some choose to use their guns to murder innocent people going about their lives. Wars still drag on in various parts of the world, and children still go to bed hungry all across the globe. We continue to face the same challenges and opportunities as we did last year.
And yet we pause as the year ends to celebrate the good that was and the good that will be. And just as we do at Yom Kippur, we use the turning of the year as a reminder to improve ourselves and the world around us. Our new year’s resolutions, whether trivial or momentous, help us focus on the opportunities to face our challenges.
At this moment of transition in the Bible, Jacob blesses first his grandsons and then his sons. I read a commentary this week which pointed out that Abraham blessed just one of his sons and Isaac followed suit, but Jacob blessed all of his sons.
This is accurate. But Jacob did not bless all of his children. His daughter Dina is absent, invisible. It is as if she did not exist.
In Ecclesiastes, Kohelet said there is nothing new under the sun. Too true. Still today, women are overlooked, talked down to, invisible.
And yet there is hope. In the very first chapter of Exodus we encounter five women who are brave, resourceful, willing to stand up to authority, and most decidedly not invisible. Miriam and Yoheved conspire to save Moses. Pharaoh’s daughter – who like her father bears only a title and not a name – scoops the baby out of the water, surely knowing that he was the child of a Hebrew slave. And the two amazing midwives, Shifrah and Puah, put their own lives on the line in order to save the lives of children.
As we turn the page from Genesis to Exodus, these women stand up with courage and resolve, and thus set into action a future of liberation for their people. As we turn the page to a new year, they remind us that when women refuse to be invisible and take their rightful place beside their fathers, brothers, and sons, they can change the course of history.