by Meyer Shwarzstein – Feb 1, 2014
In screenwriting class, I learned a term called Suspension of Disbelief. It means that your audience must be willing to ignore enough facts and logic to go along with a story. This Dvar Torah is going to require a lot of Suspension of Disbelief – I hope you’ll come with me on the ride.
I don’t think the desert is a very threatening place. I’ve been to Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Beersheba. They’re certainly not uninhabitable wildernesses. In fact, almost no place on Earth may provide that sense of wonder and foreboding, as the ancient Sinai desert did.
There’s a commentary that says the plagues in Egypt were not only for the benefit of the Egyptians. They were also used by God to convince the Israelites to leave their lives behind. If the Exodus were happening today, we’d have no trouble packing our cars and driving into the Sinai away from slavery.
What if we were told to enter a trip to outer space, and we weren’t coming back? Then, it may take 9 or 10 plagues to get us loaded on board the spaceship.
So, here it is, Exodus in Space.
Imagine that it is the year 2150 and the entire planet Earth is now ruled by an authoritarian government based in Egypt. Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine an authoritarian government in Egypt, but go with me here.
God frees a group of people on Egypt-controller Earth, the Israelites, from slavery. The Israelites, including the mixed multitude that accompany them, are chased by the Egyptians toward a spaceship that will take the Israelites on a journey to their new home planet. (Planetologists using the Keplar space telescope have already discovered dozens of planets in our galaxy that may be able to sustain life.)
Ok, we’re talking about 600,000 people on a ship living together. Most of them were slaves and they’re going to be traveling together for 40 years. How long can you and your family last on a car trip? Now, let’s add your relatives…and their relatives. And you’re going to be living together for 40 years. Feel like going back to slavery yet? Are we surprised that people complained about the food, the water, or the weather?
The Egyptians chase after the vessel as it spills across the asteroid belt, which opens a space for the vessel to glide thru. As you probably guessed, the space closes and the asteroids smash the Egyptian’s cool-looking transformer-like vessels. They don’t make it through.
Now, near the end of our solar system not far from Pluto is a semi-dwarf planet called Sinai. Why is this the first stop on the journey?
Because the most important thing that this people needed to make this long journey and make it to the promised planet is the Rule of Law. Without a code of civility and order, 600,000 unruly people may not last 2 weeks with each other.
That’s why Sinai is the first stop for these rescued people. Here they accept and are first given 10 laws. The Ramban gives a wonderful commentary on the Ten Commandments. He suggests that these laws are a sample not the most important laws; archetypes for the rest of the Torah’s commandments. He compares this sampling to the ones used by rabbis when they meet with converts. Rabbis give converts a sampling of the commandments, not all of them.
In fact, this is a mass conversion of the Israelites and the mixed multitude. Israel accepts the obligation to do whatever God commands them…and God makes a covenant with them…they thereby become a people to them and He their God.  The first commandment is exceedingly important for the journey. As any space traveler will tell you, the passengers and crew need to acknowledge the primacy of the captain. That’s the law of all ships – whether at sea or on the Starship Enterprise. Of course, this captain has his own GPS – God’s Pillars of Smoke.
As the ship is about to leave its position at this first stop at Sinai, the people are ordered to build a Mishkon. That is the subject of this week’s parsha.
Why do they need this building? Some commentators suggest that God didn’t think the Mishkon was necessary until the Golden Calf. People like to have a physical reminder of the existence of God.