In Parshat Shmot, the first of the Book of Exodus, the focus shifts from the family of Israel to the people of Israel as a nation. “It came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. The children of Israel sighed because of their bondage, and they cried out, and their cry rose up to God because of their bondage.” (Ex. 2:23) Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter commented that until the king died the Israelites were so deeply sunk in exile that they did not even feel it. But now the process of redemption begins because they became aware of their enslavement. Before this moment, presumably, the people did not even recognize how hard their lives are. God only moved to help the people toward redemption once they themselves recognized their need for change.
Regarding Shmot, the Sfat Emet, teaches: “That which is true of the people as a whole is true of each individual person as well.” His commentary on the portion is a psychological one that recognizes the power of shifting our thinking on an individual and communal level. When we become aware of the injustices around us, change becomes possible in our personal lives and in the society at large. As we enter a new secular year and study the birth story of our people in the Torah, may we remember the power of awareness to forge new paths toward freedom. Every movement toward freedom begins with a cry.