The Exodus from Egypt began with a groan (Exodus 2:23), was punctuated with a scream (Exodus 12:30), and will conclude in song (Exodus 15:1,20). The arc of liberation begins with the acknowledgement that one is oppressed, moves through the pain of that acknowledgement and the work to become free, and ends with the deep joy that can only be expressed through song.
I watched in awe on Wednesday as 84 of my colleagues at on the Capitol rotunda floor, singing songs of liberation and waiting for their arrests. I can imagine the screams of parents and children who are separated each day by ICE, and I hear the collective groan that reverberates through Facebook each time a new affront to human dignity is announced. This, too, is Torah.
We read in this week's Torah portion, Parshat Bo, that an erev rav, a mixed multitude, came out of Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38). Nahum Sarna explains that "varied groups of forced laborers seem to have taken advantage of the confused situation and fled the country with the Israelites (Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus, pg 62)." Our redemption enabled other to attain their freedom. I imagine Israelites looking at this mixed multitude and deciding that in this moment, their priority was freedom and all those who wanted to join them in this pivotal moment were welcome.
There are sources in our tradition who identify the mixed multitude with as the instigators of the Golden Calf (Tanhuma, Ki Tissa, 19) and those who complained about the lack of meat (Ibn Ezra, Numbers 11:4). These are serious obstacles in the Israelites development as a nation, as a people. Once past the adrenaline of the initial escape, there is more room for fear of the other and assigning blame in the face of the unknown.
These days Jews are both fighting for our own liberation and in the position to be freed by the liberation of others. Perhaps it is useful to ask where we are in our journey to freedom and where are others. As Nelson Mandela said, "to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." We can focus on the pivotal moment that the Dreamers are in or preference the fear of the unknown of our own status in the world. We can act to enhance the freedom of others, knowing that it increases our own freedom. The work of liberation is not a binary proposition; rather, it is a messy journey along an unknown path not so different than the one our ancestors found in the desert.
May all those who live on this earth find a path to freedom and peace.