Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –Sh’mot
The voices who encouraged the violence on the 6th must bear responsibility for this attempted coup. One cannot continue to ramp up the rhetoric and the hate and then walk away and claim it was not his/hers/their fault. Perpetuating lies and calling for violence comes with a cost.
This is the story we also begin reading this week in Torah. Joseph and his brothers are all gone. The people of Israel began to flourish and grow in society. “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. ‘Look,’ he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. We must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us, and leave the country. … So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, but the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly.”
The great lie, “They will join our enemies.” As if to say, “They are going to steal our country.” The confluence in time of this week’s violence and this Shabbat’s Torah portion is unreal. The story speaks only to horrific abuse. And yet, Torah tells us of two women whose stories seem like footnotes in the greater scheme, but without whom the story could not be. Shifra and Puah are great names for a “Final Jeopardy” question but remain mostly unknown to all but Biblical scholars.
We meet at the beginning of the Book of Exodus. The Hebrew syntax is unclear – meyaldot ha- Ivryot could mean Hebrew midwives or midwives to the Hebrews. Pharaoh commanded them to kill all newborn male children. They chose to disobey Pharaoh. The penalty for disobeying would be death. Certainly, they were brave in their disobedience. If they are daughters of Israel, one can certainly understand their unwillingness to kill babies. They are protecting their own. If, however, they are Egyptian, then they are violating the law of their own country – a claim that might sound treasonous given the national fear of the people they sought to protect. Saving a life takes precedence over every other rule.
In this story, we find the root of civil disobedience. At the same we celebrate the people who are willing to break the law for the “higher good,” we have to remember that not everyone agrees on which is or is not the “good.” I think Shifra and Puah acted heroically. Pharaoh’s edict was wrong. While we can argue that without them, there would be no Moses, ancient Egypt would have argued that it was Moses who destroyed their society. Agree or disagree, we meet people where they are, not where we want them to be.
This week’s nightmare in Washington begs this same question. Is it more important to point fingers at who did what they did or find out how to fix what is broken to never let it happen again? Certainly, there is a cost to be exacted from the perpetrators, but at what cost to the future? We cannot ignore what happened and have to accept that right or wrong, these people were led to believe that what they did was righteous and in the best interest of our nation. Holding them accountable, will not, in and of itself, fix the broken system that led them to believe what they believe. At the same time, given that they believe they were protecting America, we have to admit that the system needs an over-arching overhaul.
Shifra and Puah should not have had to make the choice that they made. Rather than simply blaming Pharaoh, we need to fix what was wrong with the system that allowed the lie to proliferate. Ultimately, it comes down to faith and security.
Where our faith fails us, our fears control us. We need to become more deeply invested in growing our own sense of worth and dignity so that another’s success only threatens us when it directly threatens us. Where we have to speculate as to someone’s loyalty and where we default to creating myths to separate us, we all lose. On Capitol Hill, the victim and perpetrator were both victims of a fear-based hatred, insecure ego, and a broken system of trust and honor.
“Civil Disobedience” may be necessary, but only so because we stopped paying attention to each other’s sacredness. IF we cared more for each other, we would find less need to live in opposition of each other. Disagreements would be respectful and civil. We would spend more time building than defending or destroying.