Shemot – The Lure of Exile

We slid into the Egyptian exile by trying to be more patriotic than the Egyptians. We built their cities and designed their buildings. Yet ultimately we were totally rejected. People don’t like ‘look-alikes’. They value pride in distinctiveness and principled people. Our agenda must be to share what is universal with our neighbours while maintaining our identity and beliefs in all respects.

Exile didn’t just happen. A series of events converged to form the difficult and dark period of Egyptian exile. Nature played a role – there was a famine that led Jacob’s family to Egypt in the first place. Then, we were made welcome and comfortable. We prospered. And we began to help build the country. Our financiers financed projects. Our engineering and building professionals helped build cities. And we joined the community service programs alongside our Egyptian citizens. You might say that the initiation into Egyptian life was not unlike our initiation into American life and other western countries. But the social experiment of integration led to assimilation. And the indigenous populations began to reject us when we tried to be ‘like them’, and placed restrictions on our freedoms, and eventually enslaved them. Then our newborns were murdered. Echoes of Nazi Germany in our own days? Exile takes place when Jewish people seek to be just like the host nation, in dress, language and names. Ironically, when we try to be just like our neighbors then we are rejected. The answer to exile is maintain our own identity, express pride in it, and share the universal truths within our tradition with the world at large – to help the world transform into goodness and morality. If there is one lesson the Egyptian exile taught us it is: be your own man. Don’t try to be more American than the American is. Don’t try to be more Australian than the Australian is. Rather, be a proud Jew sharing with others the universal teachings and maintaining our distinctiveness as Jews. And this is what I shared with the Dalai Lama when he asked me the secret of surviving an exile – an exile his own people were now beginning to endure.