Dear Kol Tzedek Community,
We did not choose to start reading from the Book of Exodus this week. It chose us. As we turn our mythic attention from the formation of personhood to peoplehood, we turn our national attention from a leader of integrity and vision, to one of deceit and immorality.
We read that a new pharaoh comes to power who is troubled by the growing foreign, Israelite population in the land. He enacts laws that seek to demonize, dehumanize and diminish this population.
And we read of the Midwives and Moses' righteous acts of civil disobedience. We read of the power of feminism to subvert injustice. And the power of the people to rise up and claim their liberation.
Ramban, the 13th century Spanish Mystic, teaches that the Book of Exodus is not just a narrative of liberation, it is a paradigm for our ongoing journey from Exile to Redemption. The Israelite Exile is not over when they cross the sea. They then find themselves lost in a desert, pining for food, water and the good-ole-days of slavery.
Our exile from racism did not end when Barak Obama took office. The legacy of slavery is deep in this country's DNA. We now find ourselves in the wilderness, and there are those people longing for an oppressive past. Their voices are amplified in this new regime. But so are ours!
In the words of social change advocate Valerie Kaur, "What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb – but the darkness of the womb?" Just as the Exodus story is about the birth of a nation through the waters of the Red Sea, so too Kaur says, "We find ourselves in this country's great transition. And what do the midwives tell us to do? Breath and Push!"
This is a time of tremendous organizing, creative resistance and community formation. This, according to the Ramban, is essential to our redemption. Just as the Israelites built the mishkan (portable sanctuary) in the wilderness, we are called to built vibrant, multi-faith and multiracial coalitions for transformative justice here in Philadelphia.
God says to Moses: 'Cry out unto Pharaoh, and tell him: YHVH, the God of the Hebrews says: Let My people go, that they may serve Me." Take note. As much as the spiritual has popularized this phrase, it is not simply "Let My People Go!" We are freed from chattel slavery that we may be of service to something greater than ourselves.
When we transition from one book of the Torah to the next, as we did last shabbat, we say, “Chazak chazak v’nitchazeik” – “Be strong, strong, so may we make ourselves strong.”
As we gather tonight and tomorrow, we draw on the spirits of the midwives and Moses who placed their lives on the line and defied Pharoah's decree. Where ever you are this weekend. From D.C. to Philly and beyond, Be strong, strong, so may we make ourselves strong!
I look forward to gathering strength with many of you this weekend:
Tonight at 5:30 pm at Calvary
Saturday at 9:30 am at the NW Corner of 19th and Market
Rabbi Ari Lev