The Women March as the New King is Inaugurated: What We Can Learn from Rashi

January 26, 2017

While we can always make mistakes reading into the Torah something in the current news, and vice versa, we also cannot shy away from the invitation of profound synchronicities, like the fact that we in synagogue read about the "new king" being inaugurated as the women protest, as something very similar (with a million women) is happening outside the sanctuary walls.  When we bring our minds to modern application or comparison, we bring our commentators and our critical thinking skills.  I bring three "Rashi's" or traditional interpretations of our parashah.  First, Exodus or "Shemot/Names" starts with the names of individual Hebrews, not a collective term like "the Hebrews," because God calls us to see actual individuals when we make generalizations about groups, rather than, like Pharoah, making generalizations only.  Second, the new king does not ackowledge the contributions of the invidual Hebrews, their patriotism, and their hatred of the enemies of Egypt despite coming from those regions.  And third, that in his fear mongering that the Hebrews are essentially refugees from the Syrian area-- and therefore will "join with" those enemies of Egypt to bring down the country-- Pharaoh actually weakens his country so much that his own prophecy comes true, first in the plagues and then, generations later, the resulting weakened Egypt falling to those (Assyrian) enemies from the north [who destroy and exile the Israelites as well].    


Fighting The Second Enslavement: Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

January 16, 2017

We think of the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt as "the enslavement," but didn't the Egyptians own slaves prior to that (albeit of a different kind)?  I look at a Rashi which places the "enslavement" (or en-serf-ment --same word in Hebrew) of the Egyptians by Joseph as the middle step in two enslavements, first Egypt's everyday slavery -- in the ancient world slavery was the inevitable consequence of unpayable debt-- and second the reactive enslavement of the Israelites as the supposed cause of Egypt's decline.  I see a parallel in American society from our initial enslavement of Africans and African-Americans to our recent reactive blaming of our decline on people of color rather than on our own national debt and lack of future planning.  I make that case while remembering the close relationship of Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, as recorded by Heschel's daughter, Susannah.