The Arc of Liberation (D'var Torah, Parshat Bo)

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.  

Photo Credit:  Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Photo Credit:  Bend the Arc Jewish Action

First steps...

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“What does it mean to be a Jew?” is a question that spans time and place. “What does it mean to be Jewish?” is its cousin. “Who is a Jew?” a not so distant relative.  For many of us, these questions shape our understanding and exploration of who we are as individuals, what it means to be human, and what it means to be part of the world we live in.  Who we are as people and as Jews are not distinct or separable, they are deeply intertwined experiences.

Perhaps you, like me, believe that Judaism and Jewish tradition can provide a valuable lens through which to try and understand these questions, maybe even to answer them. Perhaps you’ve also found that they can provide a container for forming deep relationships with other people and the divine (if you believe in the divine and/or think these are separate ideas). Perhaps you hear within them a call to contribute positively to the world. If any of that sounds like you or an idea that you’d like to explore, I hope you will join me on this journey with Beyn Kodesh l'Chol.  

Beyn Kodesh l'Chol is a community in formation for Jews (and Jewish-adjacent folks). Join us for in-person events, explore our blog and articles, find time for a one-on-one conversation, engage with Jewish rituals, and find a way to connect to each other and the Jewish tradition. 

Beyn Kodesh l’Chol is an invitation to co-create a space to deepen the intersections of our Judaism and our humanity, of holiness and everyday living, of our identities. Jewish community comes together often: for ritual, for learning, and for action.  We will come together in conversation first, allowing the act of speaking face to face to guide us. Together we will explore the ways we are connected to each other and the Jewish tradition in an explicitly LGBTQ embracing, anti-racist Jewish space that seeks to center the voices of those on the margins.
 
My teacher, Rabbi Art Green, considers himself a seeker and calls his students who have become rabbis to be seekers.  To be a seeker is to acknowledge the primacy of the question and the journey over the result.  To be a seeker relies on cultivating an ethic of curiosity and an openness to following things where they may lead.  It requires the kind of deep trust that comes over time.  On the deepest level, seeking is an act of transformation. 

This week, we read Parshat Shmot the first Torah portion in the book of Exodus.  A first step towards liberation.  Writing on Parshat Shmot, my teacher, Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld shares that “the work of transformation—the work of redemption—cannot be done alone. It requires extraordinary partnerships—between individuals, between generations, between nations, between those with privilege and those without, between heaven and earth.”  

We live in the between spaces that Rabbi Anisfeld names and so many others.  This is where we will begin and I would be honored if you would join us.

#JailBedDrop

This Christmas action is opening my eyes and heart to the world in new ways. Art and activism. This powerful campaign is filled with beauty. Learn about the fight for the lives of those affected by the prison industrial complex and against prisons in LA.

#justiceLAnow
#educateyourself
#takeaction

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Mass incarceration, from prisons to deportations and detentions, teaches us to be silent about our loved ones who are locked up. #JailBedDrop hopes to challenge this. We see #JailBedDrop as an integral piece of our movement’s legacy to art as a form of resistance. Art and activism are not silos; rather, when interwoven, we’re able to better express, engage and encourage others.

Learn more.

PSA: Doug Jones

PSA: This was not a miracle. Jones won because mostly black-led grassroots organizations went door to door, called their neighbors, and got out the vote. Let’s honor their hard work by shining light on it rather than dismissing it as a Hanukkah miracle.

(I’m working on sources for this statement. It comes from a donor community I’m a part of and I need to check what I can share...)

[Edited to reflect the initial, thoughtful comments below -- yes, this could be one understanding of what a miracle is -- and, if so, let's be clear about the nature of the miracle. Even so, I believe that the language of "miracle" in our US culture is still easily ascribed to Gd. So nuance that miracle language, folks!]

[EDITED AGAIN -- What is the miracle here? It isn't black folks taking action, because that is racist BS. Maybe it is the overcoming of structures put in place to disenfranchise black votes? Feel free to comment below. I'll come back and post a cleaner version later... maybe]