What are we to make of the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt (which are now spreading to Jordan)? How are they going to play out across the rest of the Middle East and the world? Should we be concerned? How will they impact us and Israel? What does the future hold?
It is too early to tell the immediate effects of the current uprising in the ancient land of the pharaohs, but we Jews, as the oldest nation in that part of the world, have a unique birds’ eye perspective on the meaning of these events. Because our holy texts have pretty much predicted this would happen – not specifically perhaps but certainly in global terms – and have also explained why and what we should do about it.
For example, the Midrash, commenting on this week’s Torah reading which describes the ritual lighting the lamps of the menorah, equates its light with the light of the Final Redemption at the end of days. And it also explains that the various elements used in the building of the Sanctuary – in particular the gold, silver, copper and reddened ram’s skins – correspond to the four major kingdoms/empires of history – which grew out of the root archetypal kingdom of Egypt: Babylonia, Persia, Greece and Rome.
What is the connection between these empires and the materials with which the Sanctuary was created? For one, these materials were melded, beaten, and shaped into holy objects, thus taking something which is materially coarse and refining it for a holy, spiritual purpose.
The Midrash further explains that, in this fashion, God was telling the Israelites that by building a Sanctuary for Him – so that He can dwell in their midst – they will be able to survive despite persecution by these brutal empires. And not only survive, but thrive and transform them and the world as well. All this has happened, and these empires have vanished while the Jewish people remain.
But the Jewish people have a job to do – to be a “light unto the nations,” in the words of the Prophet Isaiah.
Just how – practically speaking, and here and now – is the subject of this sermon.