Yom Rishon, 4 Iyyar 5777
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Bo

Thirty-six times. Thirty-six times, the Torah admonishes us to care for the stranger, because we know the ways of the Stranger. We were, after all, strangers in Egypt. We were strangers who then became slaves. God heard our cries from slavery’s bitter impact upon our ancestors and sent Moses to bring them into freedom. This week’s Torah reading brings us the story of our first steps out of slavery in Egypt and into a relationship with God.

This week begins African American History week. We face a stark reminder of our own country’s struggle with slavery and freedom. Many would argue that the Exodus story will bear fruit only when religious freedom and respect happen for all people. Likewise the same must be said for the battle to end slavery in America. Bigotry remains a force in our world. Religious intolerance and racism still separate souls. King wrote that segregated souls never meet in God … and then, there is the matter of refugees.

So, it is time to pray, but we have to be careful about what we seek in prayer. Last week, I heard an amplified voice at the annual anti-abortion “March for Life” in DC say that he was praying. He prayed for all who did not share his faith, for they were outside of God. He prayed that gay people would find God. He prayed that the church (no not God, but the church) would show the world power. He did not say these words softly, and the teenagers I was with left that area afraid. I had to remind them that God’s Prophet said, “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone shall the world know peace.” I have no idea what religion the rally speaker thought he represented, but it was not any of God’s.

So, for what are you praying? Are we praying for each other’s well-being or that we win the argument? Are we praying to subdue each other or to meaningfully engage and learn to embrace each other?

This week, we are supposed to focus on a freedom promised but not yet fulfilled in both our religious lives (Torah) and our secular lives (this month’s designation as African American Month). Do our prayers open relationships or further shackle each other in the chains of our own inability to see past our own rhetoric.
Why must we retell the story of slavery and the Exodus? We must retell the story for the same reason that we need African American History month. Think about it. We interrupt our study of history for these special lessons because we do not include these special lessons in our own history. Our normative history and social studies textbooks and lesson plans do not include the dignity of the people to which these stories belong. These life stories, the histories of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Disabled Americans and LBGTQ Americans are taught alongside White European History, as American History then we will have learned the lesson of God. On that day, retelling the stories of slavery are part of a bigger context … the context that we made it to the mountaintop and experienced the real walk of freedom. In Exodus, we walk free only to be pursued by Pharaoh into the sea. In America, we passed laws of freedom and equality even while the roots of bigotry and racism run rampant.

It is time for us to pray. It is time for us to pray loud enough that people will hear God’s call to remember that we are all made in the same divine image. The first human in the Bible was male and female – transgender and without race, and before there was national citizen or religion. I did not write that; it is in the Bible. That we all spiritually trace our lineage to the same original creation should serve as a mandate that if we demean another, we have demeaned our creator. We created the rest of the things that separate us. One cannot pray in any religion and then declare another human being expendable. It is time to pray for each other’s love and respect, for if we do any less, then all the laws and biblical mandates are meaningless. The Exodus then becomes nothing more than the journey from our slavery to our enslavement of others. It is time to pray with our beings and not just our mouths. Let’s engage and pray for peace. Shabbat Shalom.