Vaera - weekly Torah portion

Majestically signs, a cane that transformed to a crocodile, or maybe a serpent, the water of the Nile that turned into blood, and still, “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them” – the Pharaoh is not willing to attend to the request “Let my People go”. Truth should be said, the Pharaoh is not the only one not listening to Moses and Aaron. Moses speaks of an unprecedented promise to the Israelites, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” Nut the People? The People “did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.”

It is not unheard of that we are unable to listen when spoken to. One does not have to be great villains for that to happen, nor is it necessary for God to intervene and prevent us from doing so, or even being under severe pressure of hard labor. Sometimes we just simply forget to take a step back, take that moment necessary to carefully listen to that which is happening around us. Said so beautifully by the poet Jonathan Geffen, “A moment of silence to those leaves / That fell in the middle of autumn / A moment of silence for the words / That we said as if in vain /… So many moments of silence / For all that has passed and is painful / Now listen to the siren / That manifests in my heart.” (my own free translation from Hebrew). It is a moment of silence that we so desperately need and that so commonly we do not bother to breath it in, giving it some time to digest and understand, navigate us through the changing paths of reality which we do not dare look at.

The Pharaoh did not open his eyes nor his heart to comprehend the extent of the damage he was inflicting on his own people. The Sons of Israel would not open their ears and minds to accept and digest the sheer size of the opportunity laid before them. Both are extreme cases of deafness. Our daily cases our rarely that extreme but still when we refrain from listening we devoid ourselves opportunities, the possibility of changing, they anchor us to our past rather than help rowing towards the opportunities of the future. Change is an integral part of life itself. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus did not seek for the constant and unchanging rather, he claimed, the world continuously moves and changes and that such change is the essence of the world. Plato explains his claimed saying “you cannot enter into the same river twice” in a more complex way, asserting that while we actually enter into the same path of a river that was carved by it, the water that we enter are always different waters. Undoubtedly the waters are sometimes quite still, at other times the currents may be swift, dangerous and fearsome. Nevertheless both provide us with opportunities, admittedly very different by nature, but nevertheless opportunities to be listened to, learn from, and act upon.

During the year of 2018 the board of the Israel Reform Movement dealt with many important issues, among them the development of its updated strategic plan. Within and over troubled waters through which the Movement must navigate through, it was time to update our strategy, check what we have achieved, identify that which has been successful and bravely point out points of failure or lack of sufficient success` understand the reasons for each, and adjust our paths so that we may reach one future day the Movement’s vision. This cannot be done without listening. Until now the discourse was internal to the board and it is now time to extend it to other bodies of the Movement in Israel and abroad. Such consultations will now take place, the first of which happened last Wednesday at the General Assembly meeting. We will continue to share views and opinions with our partners from the Rabbis’ Council, the WUPJ, the URJ, Arzenu, the various ARZAs, the HUC and more. It is challenging, sometime a tedious process but we should never be impatient about it, though we do have a target day for its completion. It will be the transition gift from the outgoing board of IMPJ to the incoming board to be elected in June 2019.

In the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt the vision was the Promised Land, and the mission was crossing the desert on the way to reach that place. Our vision, already being in the State of Israel is different – we want Israel to be a Light to the Nations as the prophets of Israel envisioned it should be, a Jewish and democratic state, promoting equality between Jewish streams, and that has a respectful discourse with its citizen and anyone reaching and entering its gates.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

Reuven Marko, 4 January 2019, 28 Tevet, 5779

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