Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sh’mot

New. We begin anew. This week, we start the second book of the Torah – Exodus. We turn a new chapter in the story of our Biblical ancestry. We meet Moses.

Moses is a Hebrew, born to the people of Israel at a time when Egypt enslaves Israel and calls for death of all male children to keep them from growing further as a nation. It is a highly prejudicial time; a dangerous time. For whatever reason midwives Puah and Shifra take it upon themselves to save Moses from death. How many more did they save? While we follow this story, we have to believe there must be others saved, as well. We know that Moses’ brother, Aaron, lived. I wonder how many others. I wonder why we only have this story line.

The truth is that outside of Biblical fundamentalism, most of Biblical scholarship teaches that the Biblical characters are fluid. They often represent person types more than persons. Where there may be historicity to the stories and characters, they are, at best heavily embellished and manipulated stories. The magic of scripture is in its allegorical truths, not in its pin-point historical accuracy. Perhaps we follow only Moses because he really is each one of us.

Moses overcomes his family’s dysfunction and learns to stand tall in the face of adversity – even with God. No one before had stood up to God so strongly. Abraham did for Sodom and Gomorrah, but fell into blind obedience when asked to kill his son. The next four books of Torah demonstrate Moses’ stalwart faith in truth. He straightens out God on occasion. He struggles with the people regularly. He stood up to his adopted brother (Pharaoh) in the face of oppression. Moses is the consummate upstander not bystander. He speaks out against injustice even when it means suffering attacks from all sides. His integrity is unshakeable.

Each of us has this ability to stand up for what is right. The question we need to face is whether or not we do so when given the opportunity, and whether we do so even at personal risk. Justice does not stop being justice because it makes people upset. Oppression comes from fear. People are not secure within themselves, so they take it out on others – keeping them weak and spiritually in chains. Overturning this oppression will cause a stir. Lifting oppressed people into freedom flies in the face of the fear that drives others to keep these people down. Violent responses get tied to justice work because those in power feel threatened. Because their need to control roots in fear – often they strike back.

Moses experienced this insecurity from the people and even from the Biblical character of God. At no point did Moses waiver in faith. We do not need other stories depicting the casting off of the shackles of bondage until we can first see ourselves in the role of the one who saves each other. Only then might other stories help reinforce this holy work. We are not there yet. Too many people remain afraid. People espouse religious dogma about themselves and others that fail to comport with any normative believe. We study text to see the paradigm of what we should do with the hope that we will one day garner the yolk of redemption and bring ourselves full force into the world of care and conversation train.

This week we will honor modern day Moses’; the leaders of the civil rights and social justice movements. Each dedicated their lives to the work of changing the system. These leaders in justice dedicated their lives – some gave their lives — to the cause.

We call the Torah a “tree of life.” The characters and stories live on through the ages and manifest in each of us. Their successes and failures are ours to evolve, replicate, or devolve. Torah admonishes us to always choose life for us and everyone in every decision. Let’s take on the mantel of leadership and run with it as if given by God. We need to be bold to stand up against oppression. We need to help those hiding in ambivalence or hate to see a better light. We have to accept that standing up will be painful and sometimes dangerous. We need to remember is that courage is only the act of being afraid and moving forward, anyway. Shabbat Shalom.