Shabbat Greetings

This Shabbat marks the third anniversary since the horrific attack on the US Capital. On that day, there were some individuals who wore shirts that said: 6MWE – it stands for 6 million wasn’t enough, in reference to the Holocaust. Some people were wearing a shirt that says Camp Auschwitz and on the back of the shirt, the word staff. I would ask how our country came to this point, but unfortunately, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Antisemitism has been on the rise, especially since the horrific attack by Hamas against Israel three months ago.  Also on that day three years ago, the Confederate Flag, a symbol of racism flew in the capitol and a noose was seen. As I have since learned, these two symbols represent a white supremacist teaching that also referred to the day of the attack as The Day of the Rope, a white supremacist concept taken from The Turner Diaries, a novel by the former leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. The concept refers to a day when white supremacists lynch masses of “race traitors,” including journalists and politicians.

Is this our country? Is this the America that we have helped or allowed to be created? Many of us, then and now, have watched the news with fear, shock, and trepidation and yet we have to ask ourselves in what ways are we complicit in the horrific events that took place?

This week, we began the second book of the Torah, the Book of Exodus or Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1). Leading to this moment, Joseph, has been second in command to the Pharaoh. Joseph saved his family from a famine by moving all of them to the Land of Egypt and giving them fertile land to live on. And then, our portion begins. The Torah tells us “Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation… A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”

This new king was not around when Joseph saved Egypt from famine and instead helped them maintain their land of plenty. This new king isn’t surrounded by people with institutional memory who experienced Joseph’s wisdom and remembers that the previous king invited Joseph’s family to take refuge in his land. Joseph died and with him died his story; there was no one left to tell it. All that was left was a new king who wanted to make his mark in Egypt and had no interest in learning from Egypt’s history. This new king ruled based on fear and conspiracy theories. What if the Israelites became so numerous that they tried to overthrow our government? What if the Israelites joined our enemies in fighting against us? His theories had no proof; they were theories based on fear. He used this fear to incite followers and convince others to begin the process of enslaving a people. Little by little, he set taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor and make their lives bitter from harsh labor and increasingly difficult circumstances. Fear continues to spread among the Egyptians until the Israelites are no longer seen as guests or even people – they are dehumanized slaves.

One might wonder if the Israelites recognized what was happening or if the changes to dehumanize them were so subtle that they didn’t even notice it happening. Did the Israelites take for granted that the Pharaoh invited them to dwell in Egypt and assume that Joseph’s good deeds would always take care of them? Did one generation teach the next generation, so their story stayed alive?

All we know is after Joseph died, no one, even among the Israelites, remembered the deeds of Joseph. If the Israelites, no longer remembered that Joseph’s brothers had sold him to a wandering caravan and that Joseph endured incredible hardship before he rose to power in Egypt – why should we expect the next Pharaoh to value this version of history? Were the Israelites complicit in their enslavement if only because they didn’t fight against it from the start?

After the horrors of the Holocaust, how could a human being profess such antisemitic views and wear pro-Nazi paraphernalia while holding an American flag. Do they not understand what happened? Have they forgotten the story of what hatred and conspiracy theories lead to?  After a reckoning with the United States racial inequalities and reflecting on our country’s horrific treatment of African Americans, how can a human being bring a noose to the capitol grounds or proudly wave a Confederate Flag after breaking into our capitol?

It feels to me as if the memory of the Holocaust and of slavery have died, just like when Joseph died and a new king arose. This new king or generation wasn’t around when the pictures, videos and first-hand accounts of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belson were revealed to the world. This new king or generation doesn’t have any institutional memory of the way in which slaves were treated like animals, sold as property and dehumanized.

How did we allow this uninformed generation to grow within our midst? Did we stop recounting our stories? Did we prefer to ignore the problems as they began and continued to appear because it was uncomfortable and something we would rather avoid? How did we allow our new king to rise and encourage the existence of groups based on fear and conspiracy theories? When did we leave truth behind?

We know what happens in Egypt. Pharaoh’s fear dominates Egypt and the Israelites, for hundreds of years, are enslaved. The Torah teaches us that the Israelites accepted this dehumanizing role; they don’t fight back. It isn’t until the Israelites cry out to God that the process of redemption begins. Israel, and we later learn many of the Egyptians, recognized that slavery is not the way to treat other humans.  They were no longer willing to accept the cards they had been dealt; that is when God appears to Moses in a burning bush. It is only once the people had hope and belief that their world should be different, that anything changed.

That is where I believe our country is today. We know that we have a choice – we can continue to accept the problems and inequalities of our country or we can choose to call out to God and humanity that it is time to change.  We can proclaim that we will no longer allow others to build this world on hate and fear. It is time to build this world on love and equality. We cannot sweep these moments under the rug and instead must face the injustices in our system and redefine what democracy means. We must stand up strongly for the ideals not of which this country was founded upon but on the ideals that we want for our country’s future.

Just like in Egypt, we must cry out so that God and the world can hear us.