The past week has been a difficult one. In the span of a few days, terrorists killed 17 people in France. The four Jewish citizens at the kosher grocery store were buried in Israel for fear that their graves would be desecrated, yet another fearful sign of Europe's growing anti-semitism. In Nigeria, two thousand people were killed because of hatred, and intolerance, a fact even more bothersome because it's quite possible that many of you are hearing that for the first time right now. The world is in mourning.
It unfortunately seems to mirror this week's Torah portion, Va-era. As this portion begins, the Israelites have endured servitude to the Pharaoh for over 400 years. Think about that for a second ... 400 years. God speaks to Moses and says:
I've heard the cry of the children of Israel as Egypt is enslaving them, and I've remembered my covenant ... I shall bring you out from under Egypt's burdens, and I shall rescue you from their toil, and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm.
God tells Moses that the Jewish people will indeed be free.
But isn't this problematic? Why after 400 years does God decide to intervene now? Did we really need to endure generation after generation of slavery?
A hint is in the first few words of what God says, words that Sidney will chant so beautifully for us tomorrow morning, on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah (Sid, no pressure)
I've heard the cry of the children of Israel.
Again we can ask incredulously, Does it really take God 400 years to hear the cry of the Israelites?
A midrash suggests something different, however.
Perhaps it was only after 400 years that the Israelites cried out! And as soon as they did, God heard their cry, and took action. There are theological problems with this too, but it does highlight a central point of Judaism - God needs us to take action. We need us to take action. We must have agency in changing our lives, and in changing the world
Tomorrow, Sidney will have the great accomplishment of becoming a Bar Mitzvah, in his his speech he will talk about accomplishments that human beings are able to make in their lives.
Genesis teaches us that we were created in the divine image. And even amidst the horrible news of this week we see it: We see it in the Muslim man who hid Jews safely in the kosher grocery store. We see it when over one million Parisans march on the streets. We also see it in the many that continue to fight against racism, especially as we honor the memory of Martin Luther King this coming Monday.
All over the world, men and women of all stripes have been saying Je Suis Charlie, I am Charlie, referring to the brutal murder at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, thus broadcasting that no amount of hatred will stop our rights of free speech and expression. And also, many non-Jews have said Je Suis Juif, I am Jewish. These Internet memes and slogans show a support and empathy. There is a solidarity that has formed between people that is as inspiring as it is touching.
But we shouldn't have to say these things. Genesis taught us that we were created in the divine image. It should be enough to say: I am a human being. You are a human being.
God heard the cry of the Israelites. On this Shabbat, let us continue to hear the cries of each other. Let us listen. We will hear cries, of that there is no question. But if we listen closely, we will also hear hope. Shabbat Shalom.