Parshat Shemot: On Crying and Redemption

What prompted the redemption from Egypt? One significant word in parshat Shemot marks the turning point from enslavement to freedom.

After years of suffering, b’nei Yisrael cry out (“va-yiz’aku”) from the overwhelming burden of bondage and their cry rose up to God. Then God hears their groan and sees their suffering. What is the significance of this moment? Rashi interprets: God directed His heart to them and no longer remained hidden. Ramban highlights the role of Israel in prompting the ge’ula: Israel’s cry, meaning their prayers, stirred God’s mercy. This is similar to Ramban’s opinion elsewhere, that the epitome of prayer is when one calls out to God in time of distress. Ramban also teaches that the time of ge’ula (redemption) had already passed and the people were not worthy of being redeemed. Yet, their deeply emotive tefilla had the strength to start the redemption process. As Nechama Leibowitz writes, “The sudden and successive re-appearance of the Divine name in the text signaled the end of the period of [God’s] estrangement from the world.” 

This “crying out” recalls another story in Torah, also of nearly lost hope. In Sodom, an outcry – “tze’aka” – reaches God. The midrash teaches that this was the cry of a young maiden, one of Lot’s daughters, who had tried to help and feed a poor man. When the men of Sodom found out and wanted to burn her, her cry was so powerful that it reached God, who then descended to Sodom. God is especially responsive to the outcry of those who are suffering. 

The Torah also instructs us not to oppress the stranger, widow or orphan, because God will immediately hear their outcry. “Tze’aka” demonstrates the power of prayer, no matter how distant God seems. Redemption comes about through tefilla and by fostering the ability to hear the cry of the vulnerable and suffering around us. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

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