Bo - weekly Torah portion
During the period of their leadership, leaders experience many challenges and difficulties. Many of those happen when there is a clash between the values represented by the leaders that face each other. In this week’s portion of the Torah we read about Moses and Aaron that continue the unavoidable clash with the Pharaoh of Egypt. The plagues continue and Moses receives the order, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them.” He of course does not arrive alone, “Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory’.” And so, on one side we have the leaders who represent change and freedom, and on the other side that leader who was fearful that the Israelites would join the enemies of Egypt, but now that change is inevitable he refuses to let them go.
After the plague of darkness still the Pharaoh refuses to let the people of Israel go and unequivocally warns Moses, “’Get away from me! Beware, do not see my face again, for in the day you see my face you shall die!’ Moses said, ‘You are right; I shall never see your face again!’” Nevertheless there he no leader who can avoid facing reality forever. For Pharaoh the time comes after the plague of the firstborn, “Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, ‘Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go’.” This is in complete contrast to his earlier threat that “in the day you see my face you shall die!” Pharaoh now internalizes that he has no choice anymore and in the clash between his political values and the values represented by Moses and Aaron the latter have a priority and are bound to win. The need of the Israelites for freedom by far exceeds the value of the need of the Pharaoh to rule the land.
These lessons about leadership and leaders are also appropriate for us today. We also experience now a clash between meaningful values, some that are political values that are here today and gone tomorrow, that have a short-term meaning and at the change of an administration are bound to disappear, change or receive a different level of emphasis. There are also fundamental values, those values which are manifested in Judaism eloquently by the command for every Jew to always remember the exodus from Egypt. These are values that call for humanism, justice, freedom and honesty. These are values that call to accept the other, and in the words of this week’s portion of the Torah, “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” It requires each and every Jew to continuously think how she or he would feel if they were in the same situation as the other person. It requires us for an on-going self-examination and heading the camp when observing injustice in the world. Yes, sometimes it is difficult and also requires to prioritize between different values.
We in the Israel Reform Movement are used to be assisted, in those many times when we find our rights violated or betrayed, by our friends from the entire Jewish world. These are always led by the Jews of the United States of America. Many of them feel today that some of their sacred values, those basic values of honesty, freedom, justice and humanism are harmed as a result of the administration’s actions. In these administration’s action there are those which are natural and proper when the new administration emphasizes new or renewed agenda. However, there are things which may not or are very difficult to accept, especially in a place that aspires to represent freedom and enlightenment. At time like these it is necessary that we, in the Israel Reform Movement, identify the various values, differentiate between them and properly prioritize between them. There are true for us in Israel when accepting decisions of the courts whether we like them or not. They are also true with regard to the protection of human rights and without stigmatizing people who are of a different religion, race, gender, color, or any other unacceptable and inappropriate “criteria”.
It is therefore that we stand beside our sister movement in north America standing for these basic values. We share these values and fight for them. We call out together, in a clear and loud voice, “The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.” We mean that in the broadest sense, with no qualification, or question or regret. We remember clearly that we too have left the land of Egypt to be free and in many aspects continue the journey towards freedom today.
Reuven Marko, 3 February 2017, 8 Shevat, 5777