Tomorrow, all over the world, Jews will read the opening to the book of Exodus (or Shemot), where we read that a new Pharaoh arose who did not remember Joseph, and who was so very concerned about the immigrant group, the children of Israel, because we might become a fifth column collaborating with Egypt’s enemies. From that fear, he enslaved the children of Israel and set hard taskmasters above us.
But then the midwives, Shifra and Puah, resisted Pharaoh’s direct orders to begin to exterminate us. These two brave women exhibited the first recorded act of civil disobedience. They sparked hope that together we could stand up against the Pharaoh, and maybe, just maybe, change would come.
And then the people cried out, and God heard them, and sent Moses (and Aaron, his interpreter) to begin the final assault on the tyrant. It wasn’t until the people cried out in their pain, until their pain was enunciated, that they rose up and their deliverance could come.
And so on this day, I take strength from the teachings of our ancestors, who showed us that civil disobedience bends the arc toward justice, that we can stand up in one’s and two’s, and in groups, and that eventually Pharaoh falls, trapped by his own hard heartedness.
It took all of us, showing our faith, showing our courage, arguing, meditating, to come to the day when we could cross the Sea of Reeds to freedom. And it took a long time. It didn’t happen overnight. We were slaves for centuries, and Moses did not lead us to freedom in a week. We have to be willing to be in this for the long haul, to celebrate each victory on the way, and to have faith even during the darkest nights that morning will come.
I’m hoping the parallels were clear here. That I don’t have to spell it out. We know that violence, violence that was incited during the campaign, broke out the day after the election. I still remember the chill of Rep. Huffman’s FB photo of the Confederate flag flown at the Petaluma Veteran’s Day parade. And just this week 32 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats—just verbal threats so far, and I pray they stay that way. But this is the violence and division that has come from the campaign.
My senators, representative and governor’s phone numbers are in my address book, so that I can call them each day to remind them of their responsibility to us, their constituents.
I fasted today with others around the world, as Jews have done in times of calamity and mourning and danger—in biblical times, in the dark ages. I’ll march locally. I’ll stand up, wear my safety pin to identify myself as a safe person when danger strikes vulnerable folks. I’ll stand with each group that is threatened—and pray that people stand with my own groups: Jews, people with disabilities, women—that we all see how our oppression is individual and yet connected, and that none of us can be free until everyone is free, and injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere.
I stand with Shifra and Puah and all who stand for the oppressed and the other.
In the words of our liturgy, Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel, v’imru Amen…
May the one who made peace in the high places make peace for us, for all Israel and for all who dwell on this fragile planet. And let us say Amen.