February 7, 2020
In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), we have finally emerged from the darkness of Egypt and we are now headed into a different sort of darkness, the darkness of the unknown. Trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea, the people turn to their leader Moses and say “Why did you take us out here to die? It would be better to serve the Egyptians than to die out here in the wilderness.”
After generations, our ancestors had grown too comfortable with the abuse and degradation of slavery and from this comfort emerged a paralyzing and complacent stagnation. Though their lives in Egypt were dark and full of terrors, it was a familiar plight, a plight in which they knew what to expect. The injustices that pepper our society are just as familiar and the darkness of the unknown just as terrifying. In light of recent political turmoils, the plight of dis-empowered groups suffering in silence have been brought to the fore. Caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Sea, we must chose to move forward; it’s now or never.
The journey towards justice is not one to embark on alone. It is said that when we left Egypt, for every one Israelite, five Egyptians may have joined in the Exodus. Moses did not reject these people; he embraced them on the journey towards freedom. They became part of our nation because it was not the pureness of blood that mattered but, rather, the pureness of heart and intention. I have learned that when you introduce a new group of chickens to an existing flock, they will remain separate and continue to only look out for their own. However, following an attack – imagine a hawk swooping down or a weaselly weasel weaseling his way into the coop at night – the two groups instantly synthesize becoming one mega-flock. This is what happened in Egypt and this is what is happening in America right now.
The Jews were not the only ones who had it bad in Egypt and we certainly weren’t the only ones who had it bad during other horrible times in history. As we have all experienced the increased presence of Antisemitism, we find ourselves in an embrace of humanity. This unity is powerful; we see it when faith communiteis come today in expressions of solidarity and support. We are all members of one human family fighting for liberty and justice for all and it has been inspirational to see Americans waking up to this beautiful reality.
This Shabbat, I will be in Washington, D.C with our Confirmation students participating in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism L’Taken program. L’Taken is a transformational 4-day weekend focused on Jewish values, tikkun olam and public policy. The program exposes our students to a variety of public policy issues, guides them to explore the Jewish values surrounding these issues and teaches them the skills to be an effective social justice advocate. The weekend culminates with meeting on Capitol Hil on Monday with legislative aides at Senators Booker’s and Menendez’s offices as well as with Congressman Pallone’s staff. Our teens will have the opportunity to speak truth to power as they share their views on social justice topics with leaders on Capitol Hill. While exploring Washington, D.C., they will also build and strengthen our congregational community and experience their own individual capacity to create change. They will take the lead, just as our ancestors did in this week’s Torah portion.