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Believe People When They Tell You Who They Are

01/08/2021 04:30:59 PM


          Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Shemot, in which a new king arises over Egypt, “who knew not Joseph” and immediately made very clear his feelings and intentions toward the descendants of Joseph and his brothers. There appears to be no pushback when the king enslaves the Israelites for being too threatening in their very existence. The only resistance to his first attempt at genocide we see is from two brave midwives who refuse to murder the Israelite babies as they are being born, telling the Pharaoh that the Israelite women are simply to fertile to stop their birthing. So ultimately, Pharaoh decides to just drown all of the male babies of the Israelites, an ongoing campaign of violence to wipe out a people he doesn’t want in his midst because they are different.

          Now, the Torah tends to be very terse. We can easily create many midrashic explanations about how things got so out of hand for the Egyptians and the Israelites despite the warning signs and the apparent lack of response throughout those first few verses of this parasha. But we really need look no further than our own backyards to see how these things happen. For at least the last two months we’ve seen numerous people in power deny reality and encourage groups known to behave dangerously to rally around the reality they wished to will into being. We all ignored it. We looked the other way, or we ridiculed it, or we believed it, but very few people really challenged it in a meaningful way. And as a direct result, four people died this week, federal property was damaged, and our entire country is weakened and embarrassed.

          I know a lot of people want to call for unity and reconciliation for us to simply move on without really dealing with the actions of Wednesday or the people and decisions that led up to it. But did Moses tell the Israelites to reconcile with Pharaoh? What would our holy texts and our history look like if our ancestors had sought peace by appealing to the people in power? In fact, not only did Moses bring the wrath of God down on the Pharaoh for abusing his power, when the Israelites were liberated, the mixed multitudes went with them. All those who had also been oppressed by an unfair system, all those who were also fed up with corruption and injustice, and all those who realized their mistakes in not seeing the inevitable end result of Pharaoh’s bigotry sooner, all turned their back on their failed state and its disgraceful leader. Together, Moses, Miriam, all the Israelites, and all the mixed multitudes sang a new song of freedom and justice, dignity and liberation for all.

          This is what we must do now. As a country, each and every one of us must face our own complicity in the current failures in our political systems, the current double standards in how policing is applied, the current disruption in our civil society, and we must be willing to push for a better world. We must be willing to confront our leaders and demand better leadership. We must be willing to put in the work for equality and equity for all the residents of this land. And when the time comes, may each of us take a part leading our people through the narrow places out into freedom and a new vision of the world. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782