Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Bo

Too often these days, I cannot help but marvel at the relevance of the Torah cycle as the stories/values espoused in the weekly portions directly correlate with and speak to the events that fill our daily news.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of one of the most infamous days in our nation’s history. We watched as a rabid mob left a rally that opened with a member of the President’s inner circle, Mo Brooks, clad in body armor, saying, “[we] will start taking names and kicking asses.” The President’s lawyer followed up with, “Let’s have trial by combat.” The President followed up using the words “fight” or “fighting” over two dozen times in his speech. He then closed by instructing the mob to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to take back the country. We now have documents and testimony that the underlying goal of the event was force, and that by the President’s order, the National Guard was not allowed to show up – until three hours after the violence that then ensued. Elected members of our Congress and Senate sought to overthrow the constitution. A few even tweeted out hiding places for the mobs to find leading Democrats and the “disloyal” Vice-President and his family. One cannot deny the violence, destruction, and evil that happened to people, our nation’s capital, and our national ethos that day. As a Police Chaplain, the image of rioters dragging a police officer through the crowd and beating him underneath a “Blue Lives Matter” flag does not leave me.

Court after court and state agencies (Republican and Democrat) across the country have proven that President Biden did not steal the election, there was no impactful fraud, and the machines were not rigged. The lawyers who bring these frivolous claims risk losing their licenses to practice law. The lie continues to spread. The heart of that White House hardened – our Democracy defiled in mockery. The pain of losing and losing power “trumped” the power and blessing of Democracy, community, and faith. Even at the unlawful destruction of another, the need to win was the only goal.

We read in this week’s Torah portion, “I have hardened [Pharaoh’s] heart and the hearts of his courtiers, so that I might display My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your child and of your child’s child how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—so that you may know that I am God.” (Exodus 10:1-2)

We learn two things: 1. People’s hearts harden for whatever reason (God, power, insecurity, etc.) – they lose the capacity for love, reason, and equity. They find the need to prove their worth on the backs of anyone who might get in their way. 2. That the impact of this hardening requires divine intervention to cure.

Our tradition teaches that God acts in this world through us. The Talmud tells us that God prays; God’s prayer is the foundation of the example we should live. God prays, “Let my quality of compassion overwhelm my quality of justice.” In the tension between the two, mercy and compassion must gain the upper hand. All the more so when the choice is between injustice and compassion.

We have failed in our inner security and faith. We each have the power to choose our path. Some of us are so broken that holding power over others is the only way to prove one’s worth. Likewise, we can choose the path of faith and healing. Our history and lore tell of how even the most oppressed stood tall and never lost faith. Many people lose elections and walk out disgruntled, disappointed, and graceful.

When Pharaoh lost the “election,” he sent chariots after the Israelites with instructions to kill everyone who didn’t come back into captivity. Even if not the former President, his machine instructed the violence that has forever changed our nation. The barricades that went up to protect our buildings from foreign violence, now, they protect them from us.

Freed from Pharaoh’s oncoming chariots, Israel made a choice. We now have a choice to make. Do they live to seek retribution, or do we create a people committed to equity and justice? God awing people believe in the power of equity and justice. We may win some and lose some, but our commitment to each other can never falter. It is time for America to decide who wins – God or Pharaoh.

Shabbat Shalom