Mitzrayim Transformed

These past couple of weeks my thoughts have often been veering to the momentous news of the dawn of freedom in Egypt. 

In Hebrew, Egypt is known as “Mitzrayim” (מצרים).  Our liturgy and our historical memory associates Mitzrayim with slavery and bondage.  We sing “Mi Chamocha” every evening and morning service to remind us of the exodus from Egypt – and invoke yetziat mitzrayim at the end of the Shema as well.  

And some see the word Mitzrayim as being related to the word “Mitzarim” – narrow places, as in Megillat Eicha/ The Book of Lamentations (1:3), which describes the ancient siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians with the words:  

כָּל-רֹדְפֶיהָ הִשִּׂיגוּהָ, בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים

"all her pursuers overtook her in the narrow places"


But that’s not the Mitzrayim we see being streamed live on the internet around the world today – We see Egypt today as a place where non-violent resistance fueled by new social media tools has unseated a modern-day Pharaoh by means of tweets and facebook pages rather than plagues.

I'm incredibly moved and inspired by what's going on in right now in Egypt and I'm hoping that the (mostly) peaceful revolution taking place there before our eyes will lead to a new era of human rights and freedom there.   And that the "new Egypt" will be a positive force towards bringing peace to Israel and the Palestinians living in dignity side-by-side right next door.

We in the Jewish world have a right to feel a bit anxious.   Israel has had peace at its western border for three decades because it made a deal with a tyrant.  Now that the tyrant is out of office, we may worry – what will become of the peace treaty.

But so far we have reason to be hopeful – The military in Egypt is now in power for a transitional period.  They are admired by the population at large and they are filled with leaders who have close ties to the United States and who have supported the peace treaty with Israel.   And the military council has publicly announced that Egypt will continue to abide by all its international treaty obligations – which would include the peace treaty with Israel. 

The values of dignity and freedom that have prompted the Egyptian uprising are the same as those we in the Jewish world have long invoked in our remembrance of our own liberation from Egyptian repression.  But now the very mention of “Mitzrayim”  in our Jewish liturgy has been transformed. 

Perhaps some day soon Egyptians will be remembering Tahrir Square and the events of February 11th with seders of their own.

Posted on February 14, 2011 .