Torah: Va’Era – Our Torah finds us in bondage. Moses and Aaron appear before the powerful ruler and warn of impending plaques.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel speaking in Chicago in 1963 at a conference on “Religion and Race,” began: ”At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me.’ While Pharaoh retorted: ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed this voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.’ The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses. Let us dodge no issues. Let us yield no inch to bigotry, let us make no compromise with callousness.”
Two years later, Rabbi Heschel marched alongside the Reverend Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Much has improved in American race relations since 1963 and much is yet needed to heal the rifts over pigmentation, faith, gender, and sexual identity.
On Passover we sing, “Avadim hayenu l’Faroh b’Mitzrayim” -“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.“ We relive the tale while eating bitter herbs to draw tears of sorrow and recline to acknowledge our freedom. We open the door for Elijah, announcer of a time of world harmony. We retell our people’s past as if it was our own, not to feel like victims, but to know our responsibility to eradicate suffering.
May we savor our freedom and address injustices with purpose, courage, and hope.