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Tableau of Haste   

01/22/2021 11:00:50 AM

Jan22

          This year I have been randomly assigned a collection of parshiyot to write divrei Torah for my rabbinical school’s listserve. On the weeks that they are to be published, the first draft is due on Monday so that there is time for edits, and the final draft is due on Wednesday.

          This week in particular it felt near impossible to try to plan ahead remarks for Shabbat, when our country and democratic institutions seemed to be on unstable ground. Thankfully, Wednesday came and went with a relatively normal inauguration and the most social media worthy thing to come out of it seems to be the image of Bernie Sanders looking cold and disgruntled. But throughout the last two weeks, as the National Guard gathered in abundance just a few miles away from us, there truly was still a distinct possibility for further violence and attempts to overthrow democracy, a reprise of the events of January 6th. Of course, it was precisely because of the National Guard and our readiness for the worst that likely deterred any further action from extremists, so I implore you not to write off the concerns as hyperbolic or hysterical just because they did not come to pass. That sort of dismissal has allowed for escalating violence throughout history, and we must be open to learning from recent events.

          Throughout the last two weeks, I have felt a certain tension of panic which recalls this week’s Torah portion powerfully. Parashat Bo tells us of the final three plagues, including the quiet night when the Angel of Death stalked through all of Egypt. The parasha tells us that Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron to him that very night and told the Israelites to leave (Exodus 12:31). Just a few lines down, we are told, “That  very day HaShem led the Israelites out of Egypt,” (Exodus 12:51), verbiage that is repeated throughout Exodus. Drawing from classical midrash, modern commentator Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg suggests that while the Israelites were technically freed at night, their first act of freedom was to test out their ability to ignore Pharaoh’s command to leave at once and to instead show their allegiance to their new master – HaShem – by waiting for God to lead them out by day.

          In her masterful way, Zornberg describes this night of the Israelites being free-but-not-free as a “motionless tableau of leaving,” a “tableau of release” (Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, page 165 and location 3752 in Kindle). This vivid image of our ancestors frightened yet excited, ready yet paused, frozen yet bursting to move, feels resonant in our current moment. As the Israelites sat in the dark, awaiting the call to action, we too tensely watched the events outside our doors and readied ourselves for change.

          Now, the transition of power has been made and things seem to be reflective of the same sort of democratic process that we are accustomed to in the United States. We are ready to move forward. Yet, just as the Israelites followed Moses into the wilderness and complained the whole way, we must also continue to raise our voices against inequities under our new administration. There is never a perfect leader, and we are all engaged in a constant effort toward more liberation, more freedom, more equality, more safety, for ourselves and for all the mixed multitudes willing to join in the struggle.

          This Shabbat we find ourselves free to move toward liberation and justice, always our most urgent call as Jews. May this night give way to a day of freedom, may the narrow spaces open up to deliverance, and may we release from this tableau pushing for Tikkun Olam.

Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782