Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Health Dose of Torah–Vayeishev

I am supposed to be writing this from Boston, at the URJ Biennial convention. Man plans and God laughs. I had a minor health set back (all good now), and I could not go. I was looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues, participating in some dynamic programming, and learning with and from a host of colleagues. My disappointment eased a bit, though, as I was able to watch a live broadcast of Reverend William Barber addressing the plenum. I have had the amazing opportunity of sharing the podium with this giant in civil rights work. He has a heart bent on justice and knows how to deliver a message that strikes listeners at their very core. “We need a moral movement and a moral breakthrough.” Reverend Barber pinpointed the many economic, political, and cultural injustices that are moral failures. He made it clear that race was a factor, but not the major factor in this nightmare. This is about the abuse of power. He made it clear that this is disguised as political, but is rooted in the immoral abuse of power. I am attaching the link to the entire speech below. Quoting from throughout the Hebrew Scriptures he demonstrated that what is happening to our poor and minorities is antithetical to the teachings of our prophets. The officials are corrupt, and the Priests justify their iniquity. From Ezekiel 22:27-29, he quotes, “Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Religious leaders whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says’-when the LORD has not spoken. The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.”
This week’s Torah portion addresses this very problem. Joseph dreams that he wields power over his entire family. In response, his brothers first want to kill him, but ultimately sell him into slavery and lie to their father, claiming that he is dead. Abusive power met by abusive power. Some will want to argue that Joseph’s dreams were prophecies from God and that the abuse he suffered set him up ultimately to fulfill his dreams. He did rise to become second in command of all of Egypt. He saved Egypt (and many others) from famine. The story will not end there, though. In his dream, everyone bowed before his power. It happened that way in real life, and in real life, the way in which he “saved Egypt” destroyed the nation. He made Egyptians sell themselves into slavery just to get their own grain back. The Book of Exodus begins with “a new Pharaoh who knows not Joseph.” A rebellion took place, and the new leadership no longer recognized Joseph’s reign. His search for power that begins this week ultimately consumed him and an entire nation.
Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The adage has been true for all time. In truth, this nation has witnessed power mongers, on either side of the political aisle, vying for political power. One has to wonder how accountable elected officials feel towards their constituents. One also has to marvel at those of us who, trying not to be pigeon holed, claim to be “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” I wonder what this means. How can we support aid for the poor, at the same time we don’t want to pay for healthcare or public education? How do we read scripture that calls us to care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the alien amongst us, and not support the agencies that provide these very services? Is the system corrupt? Yes, but wiping away these needed services does not fix the problem, it creates a different far more egregious one.
One great lesson from the Joseph story is that we have to provide for people, our own and for others. Foreigners came before Joseph to get grain. Yes, he gave to everyone at a cost, and for the Egyptians whose grains he confiscated, that cost was their freedom.
There have to be better answers out there than either major political party currently espouses. Perhaps it is time for us to stand up. We need a moral movement and a moral breakthrough. I do not look to “fundamentalist religionoids” for morality, as they alienate those of God’s children of whom they do not approve. The system cannot work until we recognize God’s dignity in everyone we meet. When we do not understand our neighbor, our job is to learn and grow into understanding and engagement. Anything less is unGodly. Shabbat Shalom – I pray.