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Parashat Va'era

01/24/2020 05:59:02 PM


            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Va’era, which includes the first three plagues of Egypt. At the start of the portion, Moses is arguing again with God about his trepidation for the task which God has assigned him. He insists that his speech is no good, he reminds God that the Israelites have already scoffed at his message, and he is completely astounded that God thinks the next step is to go talk to the King of Egypt! Never mind that Moses was likely raised by the man, he is still horrified at the thought of going to Pharaoh and demeaning, “Let my people go!”

            When it comes to the first confrontations with Pharaoh and these early plagues, we see Aaron step up a lot in this parasha. It is his rod that turns into a snake, and then eats the snakes of the Pharaoh’s prophets (maybe even after turning back into a rod according to one midrash). It is his hand that passes over the Nile, turning all the waters of Egypt to blood. It his hand that brings forth the frogs and turns the dust of the earth into lice. I’ve seen two prevailing thoughts on this: one comes from a specific Talmudic Midrash that states that Moses should not have to afflict the waters of the Nile which brought him to safety as a baby in the reed basket or the sands of Egypt which helped him hide the body of the Egyptian taskmaster. Because Moses has such a bond with the natural elements of Egypt, he is loath to use them as weapons against the Pharaoh. The other popular response is simply that Moses was too nervous about his speech impediment and need the moral support of Aaron’s assistance.

            These two views are not usually offered in any kind of juxtaposition, so I never quite put them together until this week.  It finally occurred to me that perhaps Moses is reticent about speaking to Pharaoh and calling forth the plagues precisely because of his connection to life in Egypt, to the land and to the palace. Seeing how quickly he gets over his concerns about his speech and talks an awful lot later in the Torah, it seems plausible that his excuses to God are just that – excuses.

            I know that I am more likely to feel reluctant about a confrontation with someone I love or to critique something I’ve appreciated than I might to express my displeasure with a person or experience that I have no previous relationship with. Recently my alma mater, Hampshire College, found itself in crisis over mismanaged fundraising campaigns. The situation was made worse by a lack of transparency and a lot of confusion among staff, board members, and alumni alike. Many alumni responded by creating their own pledge drives, wherein they used crowdfunding websites to raise money, but declared they would only make their donations to the Hampshire Fund in the situation were handled in the way they wanted. Ultimately, the president stepped down and Hampshire was able to raise enough money to stay open and independent for now. Those alumni were our Aaron, and they used their might to ensure that our college did not fall into being subsumed by UMass Amherst. I, on the other hand, worked for the Office of Institutional Advancement for all four years of my work-study, and continued to be an alumni volunteer for the Hampshire Fund for nearly ten years. I did not want to participate in efforts to withhold further donations for the Hampshire Fund based on my previous experience, and I felt protective about the difficulties of fundraising after struggling with it for so long and then seeing people come out of the woodwork to suddenly participate only to use their efforts as a ransom. I am pleased with how things worked out, and I have found new ways to help the college, but it was hard for me at first to figure out where my feelings and allegiances fit in the crisis I was seeing play out.

            Where are the spaces in your life that you hold up excuses and are reticent to speak your truth, whether because you are afraid of damaging your relationships or because you are clinging to a previous reality that is no longer truly relevant? It is so hard and so necessary to accept the past for what it was and to still be able to move on when we acknowledge that those positive experiences no longer serve us or the world. Realizing that a situation has changed doesn’t negate the previous support you received, and you can still appreciate those positive memories while still being honest about the harm those same people or institutions are now causing, the harm being done on physical space that was once a place you loved. These are the first steps to freeing our own minds and that you may able to better lead the world into a freer, safer future for all. May we all go forth with whole-hearted honesty toward liberation and dignity. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780