Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Bo
The most heart-wrenching recurring storyline in history involves the controversies that rip families apart. We cry over the many different versions of the Romeo and Juliet love stories wherein families hate each other more than they love their own children. So fixated are these hardened hearts on being right that people’s broken spirits forget to love. Those who want to love and live in peace are either forced to pick sides or ostracized altogether. Even worse is the case when people feel torn between the two. It is easier to run away from everyone than take a stand for what is right.
Enter Moses and Pharaoh. Moses grew up as Pharaoh’s brother. As the story reads, they spent 40 years together. Sages and playwrights detail the stories of their youth spent in loving competition and friendship. They were destined to rule together until Moses heard a cry from his own people, a cry for which the young Pharaoh to be had no ear. While raised in the palace, Moses still was nursed by his own family. Whether he knew that or not, we don’t know, but he knew that these were his people and could not hide who he was.
40 years after running away from his past and his truth, he met God in the wilderness. His conscience screamed through a bush that burned unconsumed. He had to crawl inside his soul and return. Returning meant addressing the Egyptian family he rejected, his people he ignored, and his reflection in the mirror that reminded him who he is. He had to face God. He had to crawl inside himself, move past his fear and anxiety and stand up for truth. The Torah will teach us Tzedek, tzedek tirdoff – We must pursue justice – not when it is easy or convenient, but at all times and in every case. There could be no turning back.
Moses had to approach his brother, whose heart had hardened beyond loving recognition. Seven plagues fell upon Egypt, and Pharaoh only grew angrier and harder. This week’s portion begins with the command to love at all costs. God did not tell Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and warn him again.” No, God instructed Moses, “Come into Pharaoh,” and reach past his hardened heart. God knew he would not listen. God knew that Pharaoh was beyond a loving reach, but Moses had to try anyway. The gates of healing are always open. Pharaoh rejected his brother, and the plagues grew harsher.
Israel suffered. Egypt suffered more. The final plague had come from Egypt’s ruler’s own mouth. It was the plague from which Moses had been saved – death of the male children. Moses took no pride in announcing that the condemnation that came from his Egyptian family’s mouth would now destroy Egypt. Not even God celebrated Egypt’s demise.
Hate doesn’t drive out hate; it only causes more hate. Vengeance may be righteous, but it still roots in hate. Retribution against Pharaoh served only to destroy more of Egypt. We can call it justice. We can say that Pharaoh deserved it, but in the end, all the energy that we spend punishing another serves only to diminish our energy to care for each other. It is a fine line we walk when we mete out justice. Is it “Justice,” “Just us,” or vindictive “Just Desserts?”
Oppressors victimize the oppressed, but their hate victimizes themselves. Successful in reaching people or not, we have to love even in the face of hate. We have to reach with everything we have to bring people back from destruction – back from the exile we impose on each other. Don’t go at your enemy, Come into his/her heart. Every morning, Jews of every walk of life pray “V’havat Shalom baen Adam lachavaero – Bring wholeness (shalom) between every human being.” Colloquially, “Turn even our enemy into our friend.” We do not have the luxury of allowing combating each other to become our greatest priority. The legal system will do what it does, but our families and our neighborhoods need restoration. Author Jodi Picoult wrote, “When you begin a journey of revenge, start by digging two graves: one for your enemy, and one for yourself.”
This week our nation turns a new page – 4 years ago, the left felt the election was stolen. The far-right claims it now. Perhaps the elections were sound, and we just didn’t get our way. Wednesday, we made history breaking gender and race barriers that have too long defined what is wrong with our nation. We have an opportunity to come back into each other’s hearts. As I watched our first-ever female Vice President take her oath and watched even outgoing Vice President Pence celebrate both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden – I have to have hope for a better tomorrow.