Time and time again in our history, we have relived that experience in one form or another, as we have fled from oppressive regimes and dangerous environments, often literally into the seas and the oceans. Our only hope was to find refuge in some far off place. As the Second World War loomed larger over Europe, and the Nazi concentration camps became the most feared places on Earth, our people looked for any way they could find to escape the threat that hung over them in Europe. Even after the War itself was over, our people were herded into DP camps, still hoping to find refuge and breathe the air of freedom.
Those of us who traveled to Israel together last May visited the grounds of Atlit, some 15 km south of Haifa. Atlit was a British detention camp, where Jewish refugees and survivors were interned during the years between 1940 and the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. One year before the camp was opened, the British published a “White Paper” which limited the number of the Jewish immigrants allowed to enter Palestine to 75,000 over 5 years: 25,000 immediately and 10,000 for each of the following 5 years. Those caught trying to enter the country illegally were captured and interned at Atlit.
Atlit is an interesting place and an important piece of pre-State history. But it also is a stark reminder of the desperate plight of refugees, particularly as they travel the seas, searching for safety and security. While I’m sure many of our people on those refugee ships were hoping for a repeat performance of the splitting of the Sea, ultimately they had to rely on the courage and compassion of human beings. The message for us today is painfully clear. “You know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.” Over and over again our Torah reminds us of the compassion that is required of us.
Last week our sidra reviewed the birth and early life of Moses, and the first revelation of God through the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Three names are used for the Divine Presence: אלהים – Elohim – God; יהוה – YHVH – pronounced euphemistically as Adonai, and translated euphemistically as “The Lord,” or in more gender neutral terms, “The Eternal;” and אהיה – Ehyeh, which is actually the first-person future tense of the verb “to be.” Of these, it is only the third which is new, as the first two are introduced in the Book of Genesis in God’s communication with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this first theophany, God self-identifies as אהיה אשר אהיה – Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – “I will be what I will be.”