The Midwives of EgyptLogo Levatrici d Egitto header

This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "The Midwives of Egypt" published in Avvenire from 10th August 2014.

No Liberator Is Crowned King

Midwives of Egypt/21 - Moses' life events say a great word to us: gratuitousness

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/12/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoNo one knows his resting place. For the men of the mountain, their tomb is located in the valley; for the men of the valley, it is situated on the mountain. It is everywhere and elsewhere, always elsewhere. No one was present at the time of his death. In a sense, he still lives in us, in all of us. Because, as long as there is a son of Israel, somewhere, who proclaims his Law and his truth, Moses lives through him, in him, as the burning bush lives, which consumes the hearts of men without consuming their faith in man and in his agonizing cries.
(Elie Wiesel, Biblical characters through the Midrash).

To learn how to be born again we must re-learn to die, something we have forgotten. Consumer society is first and foremost a gigantic effort to exorcise death, the limit, old age; it is a huge, sophisticated industry of perpetual entertainment that should not leave us time and space to think that one day the big game of consumption will end and the carousel will come to his final lap.

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Work is already the promised land

Midwives of Egypt/20 The meaning of community and forgiveness. The intelligence and the prayer of the hands.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/12/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoIt's nice to see a handful of bricklayers who, when arrested by a difficulty, each reflecting on their own, indicate different means of action, and apply unanimously the method conceived by one of them, who may or may not have an official authority over the others. In such moments the image of a collective appears to be pure.

(Simone Weil, in G. Borrello, Work and Grace).

There is a deep relationship between community and forgiveness. Community is not given without forgiveness, and forgiveness is the great generator and regenerator of communities. Cum-munus (reciprocal gift) and for-give-ness. The only social relations that do not need forgiveness are the functional, bureaucratic, anonymous, contractual ones, where since there are no  un-mediated meetings there is no need for forgiveness, and in turn it becomes just an out-of-tune and foreign word.

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The Veil that Reveals the False Ones

Midwives of Egypt/19 - The real prophet is always in the service of a word that is not his own

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 14/12/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoBetween the separate commandments were noted down all the precepts of the Torah in all their particulars, although the tables were not more than six hands in length and as much in width. It is another of the attributes of the tables, that although they are fashioned out of the hardest stone, they can still be rolled up like a scroll. When God handed the tables to Moses, He seized them by the top third, whereas Moses took hold of the bottom third, but one third remained open, and it was in this way that the Divine radiance was shed upon Moses' face. 
(L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 3)

Forgiveness does not turn back time, nor does it delete words and deeds. But it has the power to make us reborn, to raise us to new life, to collect and receive our hurt body and turn it into a new and different one, where the scars are replaced by a face shining with light.

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The Back and the Face of God

Midwives of Egypt/18 - Promises and pacts create hope, "to be continued" by realisation

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 07/12/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoGlory is a too violent presence for the human senses. Iod (YWHW) lets the perhaps more tolerable breeze of another emanation, goodness pass by the face of Moses. Even though it is immense, it is not more than a caress to humans.
(
Erri de Luca, Exodus - Names)

The real hope of being able to start over after the great crisis is drawing on those truer words that we said in the best moments of our lives, the greatest and most generous gestures that we have ever done, returning to the promises of our mothers and fathers who generated us.

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The Weight of Common Words

Midwives of Egypt/17 - Even God can be appeased by the prophets. And no mistakes are concealed by them.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 30/11/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoWith Judaism I share the journey, not the arrival. I am not in the promised land, my residence is on the edge of the camp ... If I could choose where and how to be born, and I would opt for the same again and again: at the Sinai, as a stranger"
(
Erri de Luca, And He said).

Without prophets, charismas and artists we are doomed to perpetual adoration of the golden calves. We would reduce religion to idolatry, the religious communities to spiritual consumerism and works of art to mere merchandise. These testimonies of “gratuitousness by vocation” recall by their mere existence the nature of the gift of life, because they force us to look up above them if we want to find the source of the gifts that inhabit them.

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The Desire to Entrap God

Midwives of Egypt/16 - The banality of the idols triumphs when the prophets are not there

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 23/11/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoSo the king [Rehoboam] took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.

Book 1 of Kings, 12:28-30

Biblical faith is not only necessary for people: it also serves YWHW not to be turned into an idol, not to return to the state of an ordinary, nameless Elohim.

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The Treasure of the Seventh Day

Midwives of Egypt/15 – The land and time are gifts. We should not let them be stolen from us.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 16/11/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoIn Montgomery, Alabama, in a small Baptist church, I heard the most extraordinary sermon ever: the topic was the book of Exodus and the political struggle of the black in the South. From his pulpit the preacher mimed the exodus from Egypt, and he expounded the similarities with the present; he bent his back under the whip, he defied Pharaoh, he fearfully hesitated in front of the sea, he accepted the covenant and the law at the foot of the mountain.

M. Walzer, Exodus and Revolution

The types of humanism that have shown themselves capable of a future have flourished thanks to non-predatory relationships with time and with the earth. Time and the earth are not our creation; they can only be received, kept, cared for and managed by us, as a gift and a promise. And when we don't act like this and use time and land for profit, the future horizon of all gets cloudy and smaller.

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The Dowry of the Earth Is Pure Gift

Midwives of Egypt/14 - The law of the poor man's cloak prepares the foundations of a different economy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 09/11/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoIf a man contracted a debt and gave his wife, sons, daughters in exchange or handed them over to be slaves, for three years they will work in the house of their purchaser or to the person who keeps them in slavery; but in the fourth year they will recover their freedom” (Code of Hammurabi).

To understand and live again, here and now the great message of the “Ten Words” donated by YHWH-Elohim, we would need a culture of the covenant, a civilization of faithful promises, capable of pacts that recognize the value of “forever”. Instead, a big sign of our time is the transformation of all the pacts into contracts, a sign that resonates louder and louder until it covers all the other sounds of the concert of community life. We see this extremely vividly in the context of family relationships, but also in the labour market where work relations in the twentieth century were designed and described using the relational register of pacts but today they are increasingly being flattened to the shape of contracts only.

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The Only True Image

Midwives of Egypt/13 - God talks to us and reminds us of our freedom. The idols make servants of us.

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 02/11/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThen the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.” (Deuteronomy, 4:12)

Human history is not a uniform and monotonic straight line. Some events have the power to bend time, to fold it or sometimes break some paths from it, opening up new dimensions for humanity. The voice of Sinai is one of those instants. The words spoken there and given to a nation of former slaves freed and pilgrims in a desert allow humanity to enter into a new moral and religious era. An era that is entirely to be created still, one that will always remain unfinished. So it is still ahead of us, waiting for us, calling us.

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Words of Heaven and Earth

Midwives of Egypt/12 - Only a symphony of voices is adequate for a dialogue with God

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 26/10/2014

Logo Levatrici d Egitto...the mountains among themselves were fighting for the honor of being chosen as the spot for the revelation. One said: "Upon me shall the Shekinah of God rest, and mine shall be this glory," whereupon the other mountain replied: "Upon me shall the Shekinah rest, and mine shall be this glory." The mountain of Tabor said to the mountain of Hermon: "Upon me shall the Shekinah rest, mine shall be this glory..." (...) Mount Sinai was given the preference not for its humility alone, but also because upon it there had been no worshipping of idols; whereas the other mountains, owing to their height, had been employed as sanctuaries by the idolaters.

(Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. III)

The first reform and social organization of the people of Israel originate from the advice of Jethro, Moses' father in law, a foreigner of a different faith. Between the escape from the idols of Egypt and the receiving of the gift of the Torah at Sinai, the Book of Exodus wished to include a picture of a good believer who is not idolatrous, and placed it at the heart of an event of crucial importance for the life of the people. It is a message of great openness and hope that reaches us today when believers in the God of life should unite and have a greater self-esteem, to free and protect ourselves from the thousands of idolatrous cults of our time.

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The Different Words of Equals

Midwives of Egypt/11 - Moses follows the advice of a father: the gift of reciprocity

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 19/10/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThe Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go, return to Egypt’. (...) So Moses took his wife and his sons (...) (Aaron) went and met him on the mount of God, and (...) he asked him, ‘Who are they?’ Moses said: ‘They are the wife I married in Midian and my children.’ ‘And where are you taking them?,’ added Aaron. ‘To Egypt,’ he said. ‘We are saddened by the Jews who are in Egypt, and you will bring them too?’ So it was that Moses said to his wife, ‘Go home to your father’, and she took with her his two sons and left.

(from Rashi's Commentary to the Book of Exodus.)

On this earth, mixed in a sea of ​​providence and goodness, there are also the enemies of the weak and the poor crossing the desert to the promised land. These enemies attack suddenly, sometimes for no reason. Many poor, yesterday and today, can be saved because someone is holding their hands up, praying, calling, crying with them, for them or in their place. And because there are those that stand beside the prophets and support them when they are exhausted by the length and hardness of the battle and their arms start to give in.

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The Law of Daily Bread

Midwives of Egypt/10 - We all should be able to avail of some goods in the "deserts" of yesterday and today

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/10/2014

Logo Levatrici d Egitto... (Moses) taught them the prayer in which they were to offer thanks after eating manna, which read: "Blessed be Thou, O God our Lord, King of the world, who in Thy bounty, dost provide for all the world; who, in Thy grace, goodwill, and mercy, dost grant food to every creature, for Thy grace is everlasting. Thanks to Thy bounty we have never lacked food, nor ever shall lack it... (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. III)

The greatest form of free gift is the one that comes down from heaven every morning together with the dew. The world is immersed in gratuitousness. In fact, it is more real and present than evil that is also present. It dwells in our midst, we can find it in the trees, in our families, in the bushes, under our warehouses and offices, in the markets, in the streets, in hospitals, in schools and deep in the hearts of our people. It is here, in the amazement of ordinariness, that we may find the type of gratuitousness that saves us. Crossing through our deserts would be much more bearable if only we knew how to recognize, with the help of the eyes of the prophets, the providence that surrounds us, that we can feed and that feeds us.

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Salvation: Dance and Eyes

Midwives of Egypt/9 - The whip is followed by the tambourines, bitter thirst by sweet waters

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 05/10/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThe Book of Exodus is full of kolòt, voices. ... Kalòt is the word that indicates the sounds produced by a ram's horn, the rattle of a priestly dress, or the sounds of thunder. ... But in the poverty of a single word there is something to cherish: the sacred language recognizes that the creation speaks incessantly, from the crash of a thunderbolt to the tinkling of a bell. For reasons of humility and a nostalgia the same word is used, admitting to being unable to hear those voices and remembering the time when the word Adam meant created to the letter’ (Erri de Luca, Exodus / Names).

The liberation of the oppressed people in Egypt began with the whip of the superintendents on the workers, and now it ends beyond the sea with the tambourine and the dancing Miriam. Where there is no space for the rhythm of the dance, sooner or later the rhythm of the whip appears. It is the humble and meek beauty of the tambourine that celebrates freedom and saves us.

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Gratuitousness Speaks

Midwives of Egypt/8 - The God of the Bible calls us to cross through deserts with no fear

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/09/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoKeeping away from idolatry means not evading the question of our sons and daughters, asking: »what is this ritual for, what is this moral commandment for, why love the one God?« And it also means not to back out of answering.

(Jean-Pierre Sonnet, To Generate is to Narrate).

One night was enough time for the pharaoh to forget the great pain of the plagues, and the bricks and the “service” of the Israelites were right back as the only concern of the empire: ‘When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said,  »What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?« So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him...’ (14:5-6). The dawn of a new day reveals to us that there was no gratuitousness in the liberation we just saw.

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The Greatest Liberation

Midwives of Egypt/7 - After the worst plague, the idol surrenders and it is the "beginning of months"

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/09/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThe plagues did not stay the cruelty of the Egyptian oppressors toward the Hebrews. It continued unabated until the very end of their sojourn in the land. On the day of the exodus, Rachel the daughter of Shuthelah gave birth to a child, while she and her husband together were treading the clay for bricks. The babe dropped from her womb into the clay and sank out of sight. Gabriel appeared, moulded a brick out of the clay containing the child, and carried it to the highest of the heavens...

(Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews)

The plagues of Egypt are the normal state of idolatrous empires – and so for ours, too. In such regimes, the water does not quench the thirst of the living beings and the soil is not fertile. It is in a state of decay and it generates frogs, gnats and flies...and the animals die. The sun does not manage to penetrate through the dust clouds over the lands, everything is covered by darkness.

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The Plagues of Our Invisible Empires

Midwives of Egypt/6 - Not even the magicians of the pharaoh can keep the poor in chains

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 14/09/2014

Logo Levatrici d Egitto"As long as salvation has not come, the expectation of salvation can only be a constant universal aggravation of tensions and sufferings for us today, just as it was for Israel in the time of Moses. The announcement of salvation, breaking the mundane balance, only reveals brutal power relations."

(Sergio Quinzio, Un commento alla Bibbia - A Commentary on the Bible).

Each generation should re-read the Exodus to discover and face of their own pharaohs and slavehood, long for liberation, recognise the plagues of their own age and leave the land of empires, moving towards the new land of fraternity and justice. In the real passages towards liberation, there is always a moment of the “plagues of Egypt” – these are the great signs of times in the eras of empires that the pharaohs do not manage to interpret because their “hearts” are hardened.

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Loyalty Makes Even the Sky Open

Midwives of Egypt/5 - The logic of the rod and that of shoulder-to-shoulder work

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 07/09/2014

Logo Levatrici d Egitto‘If ye are truly the ambassadors of God, then may He judge between us and Pharaoh. ... You are responsible for the widespread stench now issuing from the Israelitish corpses used as bricks for building when our tale was not complete. We are in the quandary of the poor sheep that has been dragged away by a wolf. The shepherd pursues the robber, catches up with him, and tries to snatch the sheep from his jaws, and the wretched victim, pulled this way by the wolf and that way by the shepherd, is torn to pieces.’

(L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 2)

The culture of the incentive is becoming the new ideology of our time, and it is migrating from the large capitalist enterprises towards health, culture and education. The main limitation and danger of this type of work culture is an impoverished vision of the human being, thought and described as an individual who works when motivated by extrinsic and monetary rewards only, and as someone from whom you can get pretty much everything and in all areas of life if you pay them adequately.

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Where Real Freedom Begins

Midwives of Egypt/4 - God and his people's heaven is always higher than the pyramids

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 31/08/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoFor all my life, I must confess, I have been pushed by two forces operating together. First of all by outrage, the impossibility to embrace the world as it is. ...the other force is the light. Perhaps today I'd call it transparency. I could say: it is faith."
(Paolo Dall’Oglio, Outrage and Light).

Empires have always tried to use work to black out the dreams of freedom, gratuitousness and celebration in the souls of the workers. Exactly for it being the number one friend of man, work lends itself to be manipulated and used against workers and so it can easily become an instance of “friendly fire”. To be able to work has always been and still is one of the ways to freedom for many, while not to be able to work is still one of the main non-freedoms and a form of mass violence of our time. But next to work that liberates and makes us noble, there has always been also the idea of work utilised by the pharaohs as a means of oppressing the poor.

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Thorn Bushes and Liberations

Midwives of Egypt/3 - Moses is not perfect, but he knows how to listen to God and consider himself a brother

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 24/08/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThe decisive meeting in Moses' life takes place during an ordinary workday: ‘Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.’ (3:1) Moses was a stranger in that land who worked for a living. Just like Jacob at Laban's, like many men of his time and ours. And it is during this humble and dependent work that the event that will change his story – and ours – occurs.

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Enriching Cries

Midwives of Egypt/2 - Ours is a God that listens and starts caring for us again

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/08/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoAwake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
 Why do you hide your face?
    Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For our soul is bowed down to the dust;
    our belly clings to the ground.
 Rise up;  (Psalm 44)

The first prayer that we find in the Bible is a cry, a cry that rises into the sky by an oppressed people. To have an experience of liberation one must first feel the need to be liberated, and then cry, believing or hoping that there, or up there, is someone to pick up the cry. If we do not feel oppressed by any pharaoh, or if we have lost hope that someone will listen to our cry, we have no reasons to cry out and we will not be freed.

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Love does not give in to power

This Sunday opens the series of reflections by Luigino Bruni on the Book of Exodus
The Midwives of Egypt/1 - To save us from empires is a woman's gaze

by Luigino Bruni

published inAvvenire on 10/08/2014

Logo Levatrici d EgittoThere have always been empires, and they still exist. But today we are getting used to them – which makes it increasingly difficult to recognize them. And since we do not recognize them we do not call them by name either, we do not feel oppressed by them and we do not start any process of liberation. There remains only the “sovereignty” of consumers, who in turn are more and more unhappy and lonely sitting on their couches. The reading of and meditating on the Book of Exodus is a great spiritual and ethical exercise, perhaps the greatest of all, for those who want to become aware of the “pharaohs” that oppress us, to feel the desire for freedom inside themselves again, to hear the cry of the poor because of oppression and to try to liberate at least some. And for those who want to imitate the midwives of Egypt, the lovers of the children of all.

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