RABBI SCHOENBERG PRE-EREV SHABBAT MESSAGE PARASHAT SHEMOT
Shemot Jewish Pride 21
This week, we start the book of Exodus. It opens with a classic case of anti-Semitism: Pharaoh is worried that his Jewish subjects are becoming too rich and numerous. What if they are not loyal Egyptians, but throw their might against him? So he decrees that they be enslaved. We can only imagine the shock of our mothers and fathers. They have spent years living happily in Egypt. Now, the government, the Pharaoh, suddenly views them as a foreign menace.
I imagine their reaction might have been similar to what Americans felt on Tuesday evening as we watched the Capitol of the US stormed by rioters adorned with Nazi and racist insignia who were seeking to overthrow the government. We were stunned as the mob trashed government offices with the active encouragement of some police. The brazenness of the crime, the lack of an appropriate response, the magnitude of the crowds, shook our certainty as Jewish Americans of protection under a rule of law. It was a moment of great sadness for many of us. Sitting at my desk in the synagogue, watching the chaos in Washington on live TV, filled me with terror. I opened the Chumash seeking comfort.
Our rabbis note something unusual in the verse describing the result of the servitude that Pharaoh imposes on the Jews. The verse reads:
וְכַאֲשֶׁר֙ יְעַנּ֣וּ אֹת֔וֹ כֵּ֥ן יִרְבֶּ֖ה וְכֵ֣ן יִפְרֹ֑ץ וַיָּקֻ֕צוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
But the more they will be oppressed, the more they will increase and spread out, so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.
The Torah does not describe the actions of the Israelites in the past tense but in the future tense. Our commentators say the Torah is being deliberate here. The Torah is not just talking about the past, in Egypt but the future as well. Anti-Semitism will continue in every generation. It brought me back to the terrible events at The Capitol Building. There will always be those who resort to violence to get their way, even today. This Torah commentary felt very contemporary.
We are sad, We are heartbroken, how do we find hope? Rashi frames an answer that is comforting. He tells us that God urges us not to be afraid. Our people will increase, and prosper. Rashi observes that in verse 10 Pharaoh says to oppress the Jews "lest" they increase, and verse 12 tells us "yes" they increase. It sounds the same in Hebrew, too, pen yirbeh, ken yirbeh. Rashi is saying 'despite our oppression, we can say yes to our Judaism, yes to our Jewish community, yes to our Jewish values.'
How do we respond to the tragedy at the Capitol? Rashi tells us, we deepen our Jewish values. Live more authentic Jewish lives. Trust in the Divine plan. Be not afraid.
The disaster at the Capitol building nearly drowned out another amazing political event. Georgia, the state that saw the only
lynching of a Jew in America, elected its first Jewish Senator. Senator-elect Jon Ossoff is a proud Jew who credits his passion for Civil Rights to his strong Jewish values.
Pen yirbeh, Ken yirbeh In the case of anti-Semitism and threats to the rule of law, we respond by holding our Jewish values close.
Let me end with a prayer from rabbi currently serving a Reform congregation in Atlanta, Ga. Ronald Segal writes:
Let order and peace be restored. Let democracy prevail. Let our nation's motto, _E pluribus unum_,_ _be animated by millions of Americans, coming together to build unity with diversity. Let freedom ring.
Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg