Back in September, a piece in the New Yorker mourned the loneliness of the lockdown. It concluded, “maybe we fall forever, six feet apart.” For many of us, the challenge of the pandemic has been that it never seems to end; the light we see at the end of the proverbial tunnel always seems to be just out of reach. It’s not the drama, it’s long haul that exhausts us.

We have begun to read the book of Exodus, arguably the great drama of the Jewish people. It’s true that the book of Genesis is full of drama, but the book of Exodus is itself the drama. In Genesis, we encounter characters, members of the tribe whom we feel we can somehow get to know. In Exodus, the People – the children of Israel – is one of the characters, along with God and Moses and a supporting cast of family members who influence the People for good or (frequently) for ill. As Exodus opens, the family we got to know so well in Genesis has grown into a multitude, so vast it cannot be easily described. Its situation has become utterly unbearable, it is a population in bondage, apparently forgotten by God, living a life so terrible that salvation from it cannot even be imagined.

As we read the story again this year, the thing that presents itself is not something in the story, but something that’s not in the story, that we realise is missing.

And what is it that is missing? It is the passage of time and the day-to-day misery of lives that have become unsustainable, with no end in sight. And we can begin to understand why the children of Israel could not initially hear the message of liberation brought to them by Moses. And today, we find ourselves shocked by things that now seem so innocent in “old” TV shows and movies (“old” meaning “before last February”) as they hug, kiss, dance with strangers, go to football matches and eat in crowded restaurants. We can’t imagine having that life again.

The changes that happened to the children of Israel during the years of their bondage, and the dramatic events of their liberation, were truly transformational. And so we ask, will we be so completely changed when that longed-for time of our redemption (I don’t think that’s too strong a word) arrives in a year – or five? Will we be able to hear the message that says, here are your lives again? But we have reason to hope that we will be equal to it. For we have something that the children of Israel did not have – the Torah in which we read their story, not as a history or a documentary, but as an understanding of the values that transformed the “mixed multitude” that left Egypt into the people we are today. And it is those values that will take us across the wilderness that is our life today into the promised and yet unimaginable land of our future.