Rabbi David Wilfond’s Message – Friday December 29th, 2023
December 28, 2023Rabbi Greenberg in conversation with Shahar Azani
January 9, 2024Rabbi Wilfond’s Weekly Message January 5, 2023Dear Friends,
A sigh of relief was breathed this week when Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard. The Jewish community was deeply shaken a few weeks ago when Gay was unable to say “Calling for genocide of Jews” violated Harvard’s polices.
The Geneva Convention defines genocide as the murder of people, in part or whole, because they are members of an ethnic group. Gay stammered and stuttered and was unable to say murdering Jews, because of their ethnic identity, is wrong. Gray muttered incoherently about the “context” of calling for genocide. Was Gray trying to say that in certain situations murdering Jews is ok? Is every Jew potentially a target for murder? It is no wonder that Gay’s words are so disturbing.
Calls for the murder of Jews, sadly, is not new to us. It has too often been repeated in our people’s history since the ancient days of the Bible. In this week’s Torah portion, Pharaoh calls for the murder of Jewish new-born boys, and for the enslavement of all other Jews with “Back-breaking and spirt-breaking labor.” (“Avodat Farech”). This so-called “work” was just a slower method of murder.
Living in this crucible, Moses develops his understanding of social responsibility through three stages. First, he sees an Egyptian abusing a Jew. Moses murders the Egyptian and hides his body in the sand. Next Moses tries to break up a fight between two Jews. One taunts Moses saying, “Who do you think you are? Are you going to murder me like you did to that Egyptian?” Moses, a murderer and wanted-by-the-law, flees to Midian to escape Egyptian jurisdiction. There in Midian, Moses defends the daughters of Jethro at a well where they are being abused by Midianite men.
Moses has fire in his bones. He burns with a deep sense of justice and does not hesitate to act on behalf of the vulnerable, the abused and harassed. For Moses it does not matter if the victim is Jewish or not Jewish. Moses is driven by social responsibility and is compelled to act. This will become the Jewish spirit of always standing-up for the underdog and speaking out against injustice whenever, wherever, for whomever.
At the end of our Torah portion, Moses meets up with his brother Aaron. They had not seen each other for decades, since Moses had to flee to Midian. Aaron is thrilled his brother Moses has returned home. There is no jealously or sibling rivalry, like so sadly is depicted time and time again in the book of Genesis. By contrast here in Exodus, our Torah narrative is a story of maturation and social responsibility. Now the siblings can see the bigger picture. They understand they need to work together in partnership to form a plan to free the Jewish people from slavery. Perhaps this is the point of Exodus. It is together, through partnership, that liberation and redemption is possible. Alone we are divided and subsequently enslaved. Together redemption is possible.
In this spirit it was inspiring this week when Likud MK Galit Distel-Atburayan, apologized to the people of Israel for the “Sin of dividing the people,” her own words, by the Likud’s insistence on “Judicial Reforms,” that divided the nation of Israel with massive protests for nearly a year. Many have suggested the division that had been tearing Israeli society apart since Likud came to power last year served to encourage Israel’s enemies to attack this past October.
The Torah portion concludes with the image of a bush that burns but is miraculously not consumed. This is our hope. May we burn with a spirit of partnership like Moses and Aaron. May our eyes and hearts be directed to creating a society where no one feels targeted, but all are safe to live in freedom. May these values light our path and the path of humanity.
Rabbi David Wilfond