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Lest they continue to grow and then if war breaks out they join the enemy (Ex. 1:10)

01/08/2021 02:38:37 PM

Jan8

We are all shaking from the events of this week. We witnessed, in horror, an unruly mob storm and breach the doors and windows of our Nation’s Capitol. As if we needed another reminder of how low we have fallen. Peaceful protests should never devolve into riots and political animosity should never develop into physical violence. Yet, lately, that is what we see over and over. People engaging in criminal acts, in the name of patriotism and using it as their justification.

Unfortunately, this rationale is not new. We even see it in the opening verses of the book of Exodus, read this week. We are told there is a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph. The Sages ask, how could it be that the new king did not know Joseph? Surely everyone in the royal palace knew of Joseph! Rather, the king’s attitude toward Joseph was sour and he was not recognized in his position of power, as he once was.

Then, we are told, Pharaoh offers justification for his plan to deal shrewdly with the Children of Israel and moves to legalize acts of violence and discrimination against them. This is the beginning of Hebrew slavery in Egypt.

Lest they continue to grow and then if war breaks out they join the enemy (Ex. 1:10)

My teacher, Hakham Isaac Sassoon, addresses this in his comments on this week’s Parasha in his book, Destination Torah. He writes:

So Pharaoh is provided a platform to defend his tactics! But of course the nub of the matter is that the Torah lets tyranny unmask her wily side. Pharaoh - the archetypal oppressor  - is never lost for patriotic or nationalistic cant whereby he seeks to win the minds of his people and silence their conscience.

We are blessed to live in a country where sharing our own ideas and values is welcomed. Judaism is similar, we gain tremendous knowledge from the back and forth discussions of the Sages z”l. Indeed, we are stronger and better because of our dialogue. Sometimes ideas are shared and sharpened on the floor of Congress, sometimes on social media, and sometimes around the dinner table. The key is to always show respect and not allow our differences to divide or, God forbid, cause violence between people. That is why we must be so careful with our speech. Our words have the power to be insightful but also inciteful - just as our hands can be constructive or destructive. 

Pharaoh so easily convinced those around him to do terrible things - and they did them - with the “best interest of Egypt” in mind. How quickly people can be moved to uncivil, dangerous, and criminal behavior if dialogue breaks down and emotions overcome our core values of respect, decency, and honor.

My prayer for us, this Shabbat, is that we recognize the tremendous power of our speech and our actions. May we heal as a Nation and emerge stronger, more unified, and ready to do better

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Suson

Wed, April 14 2021 2 Iyyar 5781