Our Torah readings this month couldn’t be more in synch with the world around us if we had planned it this way...
Our Torah readings this month couldn’t be more in synch with the world around us if we had planned it this way. As Pharoah decreed that all Hebrew baby boys be killed a few weeks ago, we mourned two refugee children dead in the custody of ICE. As Moses and Aaron engaged in a high-stakes negotiation with Pharoah for the people’s freedom, we’ve watched as the tension mounts over the proposed wall and the government shut-down. And now, as the newly-released slaves cross the sea to freedom this Shabbat, we will honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (see below for Monday events) and various Women's Marches will take place around the country and locally. There are differences to be sure, but I can’t help but feel that we are in the throes of another high-stakes struggle for liberation – the liberation of many different peoples facing varied oppressions – and that our Torah stories are an invaluable resource for us, providing inspiration, guidance, and maybe even strategy.
This weekend at Kavana and in Jewish congregations the world over, we will read the final episode in the escape from Egypt – the crossing of the sea and the improbable defeat of Pharoah’s imperial army. This is marked by a special Torah reading – Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea – a victory song that the people exclaimed after – or some say during – their crossing. It contains the famous line “Mi khamokha ba’eilim Adonai, Mi kamokha nedar baqodesh, nora tehilot, oseh fele?!” “Who is like you among the mighty ones, YHWH?! Who is like you, spectacular in holiness, awesome in praises, making miracles?!” It is the ultimate celebration – total, jaw-dropping awe at the miracle of freedom that they never believed would happen. In traditional Jewish prayer, we repeat this line no fewer than three times a day.
Why do we repeat this verse so much? Why do we remember an ancient celebration of freedom not just on Passover, but every day? I think we always need to be reminded that freedom is possible. And we always need to be reminded of that because we are always somewhere between oppression and freedom – sometimes closer to one end of that spectrum and sometimes closer to the other, but always somewhere in the struggle. So, more than anything, I think our Torahstories give us a sense that we’ve been here before and it has turned out well.
These days, we at Kavana are in that struggle as a community, perhaps more actively than ever. This past fall we came out in force to register voters and support propositions in the lead up to the last election. We held an inspiring event to learn about refugee issues as part of HIAS’s National Refugee Shabbat, and participated in a successful fundraiser held by the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice-Northwest to help refugees get out of immigration detention. And we mourned and stood together with each other, the broader Jewish community, and allies in the aftermath of the massacre in Pittsburgh, the worst anti-Semitic violence in American history.
Now, we are building on this work and embarking on the next phase of our efforts to contribute to the liberation of all peoples. Kavana partners are forming plans to strengthen and increase our engagement in the movements for immigrants and refugees, to address homelessness and housing, to combat climate change, and possibly more. We begin this Monday with participation in the MLK Day rally and march, and restoring a park in honor of Tu BiShvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees. And we continue on, together.
Rabbi Josh Weisman
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.