Solstice, Sunrise and Shemot

Posted on December 22, 2021

by Hazzan Barbara Barnett

Today is the winter solstice. The day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the calendar year—the longest, darkest night. As I stood this morning above the shore, as I often do, to capture the sunrise on my camera, it struck me—this profound interplay of light and dark, of day and night, of water and sky. Not quite day, not quite night. The moment of creation—a new day is born. In the days and weeks ahead, minute by minute we will inch into the light—earlier in the morning and lasting later into the evening.

It impossible not to be awed by the power of this moment, which unfolds each day—mundane in one sense, but far from it in appreciation and “wow” of observing the sun creep over the water, this morning a magenta-red impossible to capture in the limitation of the camera lens, much like the impossibility of capturing so much of the brilliance of G-d’s creation: the mountains, the glaciers, the sea, a thunderstorm, a rainbow. They must be experienced first-hand—no photograph (no matter how many filters or wizardry I might employ in trying) come close.

I imagine as we cross from the promise of the end of book of Genesis, finished last Shabbat into the shadows of the early chapters of Exodus, which we begin this Shabbat. Rescued from famine and settled in Egypt, reconciled with Joseph, the B’nai Yisrael conclude Act I of our story with great promise in the land of Goshen. But where the story picks up four centuries later, there “arose in Egypt a new Pharoah who did not know Joseph.” Our ancestors are in their darkest days without even the barest glimmer of light, of hope as they cry out to G-d from within the depths of slavery.

Moses, having fled from Egypt, tends sheep, far afield from prince of Egypt he had been and equally far from the leader he will become later in the story (I’m sure I’m not divulging any big spoilers here!). Moses is distracted as he tends to his sheep, caught by the sight of the bright, inexplicable light of a bush afire, burning, yet not consumed by the blaze.

From within the brightness and the flame emerges G-d’s voice calling upon Moses to be his partner in freeing the B’nai Yisrael from the horror of slavery. For Moses to come—reluctant as he is, unqualified as he believes himself to be—from the shadows and shepherd his people to freedom. Bring them from the darkest day and into dawn of freedom.