One of the most powerful classes I have ever experienced was Monday in Jerusalem. Our teacher Micah Goodman presented a new way to think about the themes, archetypes and origins of the story of the Exodus. He focused on what we learn from the way Egypt dealt with foreigners and the way Midian dealt with foreigners.
Egypt kept the foreigner separate and distinct. They wouldn’t even break bread together. The Hebrews when they came down to Egypt to reunite with their son and brother Joseph were given land apart from the main parts of Egypt in Goshen. They were to always remain distinct.
In Midian represented by the High Priest Jethro the opposite occurred. Moses was welcomed with a feast, adopted into the family, even intermarried. He was taught their system of justice and modeled the Israelites’ system on the Midianite one.
These two extremes one of assimilation and one of ghettoization have marked the Jewish people since those times. We struggle between these two categories. Should we remain a people set apart or should we assimilate into the larger system. Both have their terrors. The ghettoization led ultimately to oppression by the larger society as we multiplied fulfilling the first commandment in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. The Egyptians and Pharaoh got suspicious, fearful and hateful and set out to kill the Jewish people.
The Midianites started with welcome but ultimately literally tried to seduce the nation of Israel. (See Number 30-31).
Today we still struggle with these extremes. How do we maintain our unique and particular heritage while engaging in the contemporary world? Without attracting suspicion and hatred?
We will continue to explore this idea in future posts. What do you think?