7 Haiku for Parsha Bo – Sure, let’s put blood on the door.


I
No, Mister Pharaoh
You can not keep the children
as security.

II
First the locusts, then
a darkness, so pitch dark, it
embarrassed the night.

III
Maybe the cattle
in exchange for freedom? No
conditions at all.

IV
It will happen at
midnight, Pharaoh is warned. God
invents Rosh Chodesh.

V
I’d paint anything
on my door if it meant I
could live through the night.

VI
Midnight came and the
firstborn went. There’ll be no time
to let the bread rise.

VII
Remember this day
with nothing leavened and put signs
on your hands and eyes.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Why it’s not about Ferguson


The Jewish community should be engaged and enraged over what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo., and the long-standing racial discrimination in America that Ferguson has thrust into the spotlight. But the current news cycle will inevitably end, and we will either be an allied force for systemic change or we will fall back into our normative patterns of silent acquiescence. 

While Jews must not be painted with a single-colored brush — our own racial diversity strengthens us — on the whole, many of us enjoy the privileges of a society that favors white skin, overtly and inadvertently. It is an undeniable reality that race permeates all aspects of American life, especially the justice system and its collateral consequences. 

Nationally, we Jews live two realities at the same time: minority and majority. As a minority, we are vulnerable to religious bigotry and hate crimes, especially now as anti-Semitism is resurgent throughout the world. We know the experience of persecution. Simultaneously, many of us belong to the majority in a society where race plays a disproportionate role in educational and economic opportunity. We often greatly benefit from what is essentially an accident of birth.

Our challenge is to openly acknowledge the complexities and discomfort of this dual reality.

When confronted with struggle or difficulty, we turn to our tradition, and more specifically to the foundational narrative of our people, the Exodus.

Our story is intimately familiar to us: We were brutally persecuted, enslaved, then redeemed. It’s part of our religious DNA, the emotional and psychological reverberations eternally implanted in our souls. And it rightly animates many of the core values informing our fight for justice throughout the world.

But right now our history of enslavement may not be the primary biblical impetus for American Jews to actively engage in the fight against discrimination. There’s another aspect of the Exodus story we’re less eager or likely to confront. Our story contains an evil Pharaoh, and he’s more than just the brutal oppressor. He is a paradigm for a darkness within all humanity. 

Time after time, Pharaoh is presented with the opportunity to release his slaves, to hearken to the anguish of his own heart after each plague sent by God. And in each instance, precisely when the pain is most palpable, Pharaoh briefly shifts in his decision-making. He considers letting the Israelites go free. But as the open wounds close, so does his willingness to side with dignity and freedom. So does his chance to live in and with the vulnerability of not knowing what will come after the current normal ends.  

So Pharaoh is not only the perpetrator of injustice, but is also, paradoxically, the potential that can enable redemption. 

This defining pharaonic trait allows our heart’s defensive walls to become too high, too thick.

As rays of light get in, they are swiftly swallowed up in the darkness of apathy, control and neglect. Although God may have planned and set the wheels in motion for the narrative to play out as it did, Pharaoh’s behavior contributed to and exacerbated the damage as well. His blindness to the emotions within his heart also allowed for a heinous status quo to persist, all under a delusional misconception of law and order. We are all susceptible to the weaknesses of Pharaoh, to allowing our protective layers to obstruct our ability to connect even with our own hearts.    

It is for this reason that God, despite creating us with the capacity for a stiff, hard heart, commands us to de-layer it: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

It is for this reason that God promises: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). 

Objectively, our hearts are born no different from the heart of Pharaoh’s and the silent Egyptians who allowed for the culture of slavery to exist. They are at once tender and primed for compassion, and ready for walls that permit cruelty. We all experience both. We try to commit to the former because we know to bend toward the elevation of life and dignity. But it takes hard work to live up to that sacred goal. 

The Torah includes the inner workings of Pharaoh’s heart so that we will take them seriously. Let us use this textual mirror to identify the walls we’ve permitted to accumulate around our hearts. And then it is time to tear them down. Because all too often, when the in-your-face images fade away, we quickly fall back into our normal patterns, and the cracks in our hearts are plugged with apathy. 

If 20 children murdered at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., wasn’t enough to move our Congress to make sweeping changes in favor of public safety for all of our children — to open an actual national dialogue about our gun violence epidemic — then we shouldn’t be surprised when Ferguson drifts away without the establishment addressing the root causes of systemic racism. We can’t let this fade away again in hopes that it will eventually work itself out. 

As our brothers and sisters cry out for justice, we must be more open than ever to their pain, which is ours, too. When our heart aches, as it should, from yet another story of a young black or brown man or woman killed or wrongfully incarcerated, we can assess the magnitude and complexity of the issue at hand, turn off the news and hope someone fixes these problems soon, or we can remain awake, enter the pain empathically, and be a source for healing that goes beyond the surface.

Start now. Read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and discuss it with two or three friends. If moved, connect with others who are trying to understand what to contribute to this centuries-long struggle and how to create systems, encourage behaviors and develop communities that treat all of God’s children with the dignity, benefit of the doubt and compassion they deserve, and which we all hope to receive from others. 

The Jewish community is uniquely positioned to be a critical force in this country for moving beyond the idea of a melting pot toward the creation of a sacred tapestry of race, ethnicity and faith that doesn’t melt away our differences, but rather weaves together our distinct gifts with the gifts of all our neighbors.

America deserves more. Our children deserve more. Our Jewish voices must reflect our post-redemption experiences, our commitment to diminishing the apathetic tendencies in each of us, and our recognition that equality of opportunity is an essential, divine value.


Rabbi Aaron Alexander is associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University. Rabbi Ronit Tsadok is assistant rabbi at IKAR.

Becoming a parent: Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17)


Joseph, the once-favored child of Jacob, rises up from slave and prisoner to become Pharaoh’s right hand. He assumes responsibility for a far-reaching 14-year business plan to ensure that after seven years of plenty, Egypt would be prepared to endure the seven years of famine. Once an egocentric young man who drew the enmity of his brothers, so much so that they almost killed him — literally — Joseph develops expertise necessary to successfully navigate complex managerial responsibilities. Ultimately, Egypt will thrive because of Joseph’s proficiency as a politically connected businessperson. Joseph was truly blessed.

Then more blessing comes Joseph’s way. Joseph and his Egyptian wife, Asenath, bring two sons into the world.

We imagine Joseph being overjoyed as children enter his life. We dream about the nachas (pride) he feels. And, like so many parents back then and now, he also probably felt overwhelmed. Although Joseph was very successful as a businessman, he had little helpful guidance on how to be a good parent. 

His father, Jacob, was a poor role model; Torah speaks frankly about Jacob’s lackluster parenting skills. When Joseph brags to his brothers and parents that they will all bow down to him, Jacob is silent in the face of Joseph’s egotism. Does this lead to the subsequent plan to sell Joseph into slavery? Following the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s inability to respond — again he was silent — might have allowed for the brothers’ overkill against the people of Shechem.   

Yes, Joseph is extremely underprepared for his new role as a parent. Yet, Proverbs expresses the long-term significance of our actions as parents: “Train up a child in the way she should go and even when she is old she will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Thankfully, later generations find guidance in later Jewish texts.  

Talmudic Wisdom on Raising Children

In the Talmud, our Rabbis delineate five (or six) central obligations incumbent upon all parents: 

“A parent has the following obligations towards a child — brit, to circumcise him [others add: or enter her into the brit/covenant], pidyon ha-ben, to redeem him if he is a firstborn, to teach the child Torah, to find the child a spouse [others add: a partner], and to teach the child a craft or a trade. And there are some who say that a parent must also teach the child how to swim” (Talmud, Kiddushin 29a).

Contemporary Jewish Wisdom on Parenting

Recently, parents gathered under the auspices of the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting to consider the role and responsibilities of parenthood. With children in nursery school through high school, these parents engaged the Kiddushin text to understand the wisdom of our ancient rabbis’ teachings. 

Then, assuming the role of parenting coaches, they listed five essential responsibilities for parents today:

• Guiding, not befriending: Parents are guides, not friends or buddies. Eventually, our children will do what they choose, so parents are responsible to help guide our kids toward their own good decision-making. We do this by being loving, intentional, values-based and expansive as we guide our children. 

• Remembering kids are kids: Children — teens especially — are hormonally driven, peer-pressured, biologically unfinished and emotionally evolving. Our children will face almost every challenge we can imagine and will be constantly seduced to try to follow their urges. We help set limits, because when parents treat their children as fully formed adults who can make their own decisions, we set them up for failure. 

• Providing strength: Parents set expectations clearly and follow through on consequences because children need and most often (secretly) desire clarity and limits. Consequences should be clear, firm and situationally appropriate. Only then do parents provide the strength and excuse to keep kids from making decisions that are not in their best interests and/or are not what their higher selves really want to do. 

• Truth-telling: Parents should always tell the truth to their children, because it ensures that they will know they can always trust us. Nonetheless, complete openness is not necessary as it is usually not age- and situationally appropriate. Sharing partial truth without lying, or not answering certain questions because they are private, is preferred to lying. (Think: Mom, did you ever smoke weed?) 

• Upholding Jewish values: Judaism teaches age-appropriate moderation in most situations. Specific values guide parenting: b’tzelem Elohim (being created in the image of God) expresses the intrinsic value and worthiness of every person, emet (truth-telling), shmirat ha’guf (care of our body, mind and spirit), chesed (kindness), tzedek (do what is just or right), chaim (affirming life) and shalom (seeking wholeness).  

So, like Joseph, manager extraordinaire, many of us become new dads and moms. Amid the joy and wonder, may we remember our parental responsibilities so that our children can grow into ethical, resilient, compassionate adults. Then we will truly be blessed.


Rabbi Paul Kipnes is spiritual leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas. His recollections about his Grandmother Esther’s bout with Alzheimer’s is published in “Broken Fragments” (URJPress, 2012). He blogs at rabbipaul.blogspot.com and tweets @RabbiKip.

Nelson Mandela/Moses


The one fact that continues to astonish me about Nelson Mandela is this: He studied Afrikaans in prison.

It was the language of the wardens. It was the language of the people who ruled South Africa as a minority and instituted apartheid to deprive the majority black population of its rights. It was the language of the people who forced Mandela to work for years at hard labor, chipping rocks and mining limestone. It was the language of the people who denied Mandela his request for sunglasses, so eventually the glare of the South African sun off the limestone would permanently damage his eyes. The dust would cause the respiratory diseases that, this week, have brought him to what, at this hour, appears likely to be his deathbed.

Mandela learned Afrikaans. The reason, he told biographer Anthony Sampson, was so he could convert his captors, his torturers, his oppressors, to his cause — the cause of freedom.

“Mandela was developing a special interest in the Afrikaner mindset,” Sampson wrote. “He urged the other prisoners to talk with the wardens in Afrikaans, however much they disliked it.”

The learning had a practical purpose as well — it made Mandela a more effective fighter and leader.

“Mandela, in his cell, learnt much more about the Afrikaners than we who were fighting them,” one future colleague of his said. “He knew he could negotiate with them.”

[Related: A South African rabbi reflects on Nelson Mandela]

Think of Moses living among the Egyptians, eventually being able to speak to Pharaoh.

In fact, Mandela was as close to the biblical Moses as we’ll see in our lifetime.

He was given up by his mother to be raised at the “great palace” at Mqhekezweni by a royal family — straight out of Exodus. He was, like Moses, deeply imperfect. He chose to abandon nonviolence for violent resistance. When Western leaders turned their backs on him, he turned for help to communism and to all the unsavory rebels of his day — Fidel Castro, Muammar Gadhafi, Yasser Arafat. His private life was not an episode of “Father Knows Best.” But he freed his people.

It is a well-known and well-promoted fact that this Moses carried on his struggle side-by-side with Jews. The e-mails zinging about trumpeting Mandela’s Jewish connections are as ubiquitous and self-congratulatory as those listing Jewish Nobel Prize winners. But the facts speak for themselves. It was a liberal Jew, Lazar Sidelsky, who took an interest in a young Mandela, gave him his first job as a law clerk and, in Mandela’s words, became his “first white friend.”

Anti-apartheid activist Arthur Goldreich pretended to own the farm near Johannesburg where the fugitive Mandela hid. Nadine Gordimer helped write Mandela’s speech at his Rivonia Trial, at which Mandela’s co-defendant, Denis Goldberg, was also sentenced to life in prison. Mandela’s defense attorneys were Jewish (then again, so was the state prosecutor). The list goes on.

“I found Jews to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics,” Mandela once wrote, “perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”

In other words, the Jews who supported Mandela fought out of the same sense of empathy that animated him. Because you were slaves in Egypt turns out not to be just a line we say at Passover.

Was it more impressive that Jews, who could have lives of white privilege in apartheid South Africa, aligned themselves with Mandela, or that Mandela, who suffered deeply at the hands of the Afrikaners, sought to empathize with them? Either way, the same powerful force was at work.

That empathy was the flip side of fear. Instead of succumbing to the hate and fear he surely deserved to feel, Mandela pushed through.

“Resentment,” Mandela said, “is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” 

In prison on Robben Island, Mandela learned Afrikaans. Why else does that astonish me? Because it showed not just empathy, but optimism.

Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. The Afrikaner authorities wanted him to try to escape — they had plans to shoot him dead should he try. His situation was the definition of hopeless — and Mandela saw hope. He couldn’t foresee the end, 27 long years away, but he believed in a better day.

Even now he leaves behind a South Africa going through paroxysms of violent change. To throw off the oppressor is the first, necessary step — but the way after that is long, often terrible and unclear. That was true of Mandela, as it is true in the Middle East. I wonder how many of those who would turn back the Arab Spring because of the unrest and uncertainty that has followed would say the same about Mandela, or say it publicly. 

No, Mandela’s legacy, his lesson, is in those two words, empathy and optimism, and he said it best:

“Part of being optimistic,” Mandela wrote, “is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

From Moses to Mandela, there has been only one Mandela.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Israelis wonder: better a bird in the hand?


In the midst of so many uncertainties dumped on us by the dramatic demise of the Mubarak regime, one solid, crystal-clear fact emerges: The “experts” don’t know what they are talking about.

The same people who now sit in television studios explaining to us what is happening in Egypt and why are the same people who three weeks ago swore that the Egyptian regime was stable. Which reminds one of the saying of Abba Eban: “It is very difficult to forecast, especially about the future.”

Not being an expert on Egypt myself, I feel comfortable sharing some of the thoughts and the concerns of the Israelis today, as they wake up to a new reality in this volatile region. If I were you, however, I would take even these thoughts with a grain of Sinai sand.

To start with, Israelis wonder what will happen with the peace between the two countries. Cold as this peace was, with good old Mubarak we probably felt like bedfellows who were not crazy about each other, but nevertheless hugged each other because the alternatives (Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas) were worse. Even Omar Suleiman, vice president and head of Egyptian intelligence, who used to come here frequently and rub shoulders with his Israeli buddies, is out. Should we now consider the Egyptian front a hostile one? There are already talks about reviving Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Army Corps, which was disbanded after the peace treaty was signed in 1979.

The military council ruling Egypt issued a soothing statement, and Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian envoy to Washington, told ABC’s “This Week” that the Israeli peace treaty had been beneficial to his country for 30 years and he expected it to remain in place. This is probably true, but so is the Jewish dictum “Ashrei adam mefached tamid” —  “Happy is the man that feareth always” (Proverbs 28:14).

More specifically, Israelis are worried about Sinai. This area, which was supposed to serve as a buffer zone, as well as a tranquil vacation resort, became a haven for Hamas and Bedouin arms smugglers and terrorists. Will the instability in Egypt proper weaken the ability of the Egyptians to control Sinai? Just in case, Israel allowed Egypt to move two battalions into Sinai, demilitarized under the peace treaty. Coordination between the two military institutions still seems to work smoothly. One needs every shred of comfort these days.

Then there is the question of the Egyptian gas supply to Israel. Will it continue? It seems so because it is an important source of income and also one of the pillars of the peace treaty. Yet already someone tried to sabotage the gas pipeline going through Sinai. Again, one wonders why Moses, when pulling out of Egypt, instead of turning right to the oil-soaked gulf, led the Israelites leftward, into dry Canaan. That is, until this year, when we found a lot of gas in our shores. We breathe again.

The biggest question still is where Egypt is going. The demonstrators in Tahrir Square generated a lot of sympathy among us. The sight of so many people in our authoritarian region taking to the streets to say “enough is enough” was a heartening one. Maybe the old truism that Arabs and democracy are mutually exclusive wasn’t true after all. And while the pragmatic Israelis realize that peace in the Middle East you make with dictators, deep in our hearts there lies the hope that with democracies around us, we will not have to fight and then make peace, because democracies are not warmongers.

But will Egypt become a democracy? If there were free elections today, the Muslim Brotherhood would have emerged as the biggest party. (Caution: “Expert” talking here, but still, I think it’s true.) Why? Because unlike the masses who filled the street, they are highly organized. If they had their way, Egypt would have become a theocracy, a far cry from what the people in Tahrir Square wanted. It is safe to assume that the military will not let this happen.

However, even if there is a successful period of transition to democracy, where true parties are established and a civil government is formed, the socioeconomic challenges of Egypt are so awesome that failing to meet the expectations of the revolutionaries will push them into the arms of the Muslim Brothers, who are waiting there patiently, believing in the slogan of “the worse, the better.” Will the army be there to intervene, or, like in the Turkish case, will its feathers be trimmed over time?

One thing for sure: At the coming seder, we should be twice thankful for leaving Egypt. With their televised conspiracies about the Mossad being behind every trouble, the last thing we need now is a Joseph messing with Pharaoh’s wife.

Last but not least, people here wonder at the ease with which the Obama administration dumped their loyal Egyptian ally of 30 years. Of course, it has nothing to do with us. The experts keep telling us that.

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem. From 1992-96 he served as the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments. He blogs exclusively at

Better safe than sorry


It is late in the game for Pharaoh. Mitzrayim has just endured the penultimate plague: Dark. Pharaoh now knows he has little time left: It is, for him, the bottom of the ninth.

He summons Moshe, as he has done so many times before, and for the first time conducts an earnest negotiation. The king of Egypt now concedes the demand Moshe had made earlier — everyone may go, even the women and children. Only, says the Pharaoh, you must leave your cattle behind. Moshe declines the offer, and ups the ante. Not only are we going to take our cattle with us, he insists, but you must supplement the herd with some of your own.

Now, the Torah does not record this, but I imagine that there was, at this point, another negotiation. Pharaoh probably said: “Why do you need so many animals, and so many different kinds? I understand you are going to worship your god, and he will demand sacrifice. But come on, now! If your god likes goats, take goats; if he prefers cows, take cows; if it’s sheep he demands, take all the sheep you want. But why do you need to take them all? This makes no sense at all, and, moreover, it’s wasteful! Take only what you need.”

Now we understand Moshe’s reply. We must take it all with us, he says, because “we will not know how to serve the Lord until we arrive there.”

At last we have arrived at the real dispute between Moshe and Pharaoh, between God and Mitzrayim. Pharaoh, an Egyptian, knew what every god wanted — the exact method of honoring each idol and deity in the pantheon. Egypt was all about certainty and permanence. There was one eternal way, and nothing left to chance.

Moshe knew that when we serve God, we always live with uncertainty. How do we know for sure what God will ask of us? We know what He asked of our ancestors, but He might have a different plan for us. The answers of the past are a useful place to begin — an absolute requirement, actually — but that will not ensure success. In the worship of God, as in mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Ibn Ezra offers this: We don’t know if we will need to serve God with this or with that, or with much or with little. Sometimes a small quantity of one service will be more pleasing to God than an overabundance of another service. We must be spiritually alert, flexible and well supplied.

In Mitzrayim, in the place of no options, there was no room for doubt. The world order, including the spiritual order, was not subject to speculation. The answers had all been given, and our assignments were not subject to change. Slaves were slaves; masters were masters. Some enjoyed a life of luxury, others toiled in the pit. And each god was well known and predictable.

For Israel, doubt is not an enemy of service. When we stand before God, we do not come with perfect clarity. We bring to God’s service all our confusions and disappointments as well as our faith and commitment. We don’t have all the answers — in fact, we don’t know all the right questions — but this does not prevent us from serving God with joy.

It is because of our uncertainty that we must bring to the task of serving God all our resources: our intellect, our experience, our imagination, and our learning. We cannot do it alone; we need to take with us all the wisdom we can find. Some resources will come from unexpected sources, like Pharaoh. Some will come from study of Torah and commentaries, of Talmud and codes, of Jewish history and literature. Some will come from our family, friends, teachers and community. Some will be a gift from heaven.

In our journeys out of Egypt toward Mount Sinai — the place of encounter between God and Israel, the place of Torah and covenant — we are always in between. We have left the verities of Egypt, and have not yet arrived at the world of truth, the place where ambiguities will be resolved. Until then, until we arrived there, we must be clever. If we bring all we have and all we can obtain to the tasks of serving God in this world, we might, when called, be ready.

Rabbi Dan Shevitz serves Congregation Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and teaches rabbinical students at the American Jewish University.

Benefit of Doubt


Want to be a partner in redemption? Then don’t overlook a surprising message in this week’s parsha.

As Pharaoh and his chariots bear down upon the Israelites on the bank of the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites react in two seemingly contradictory ways. First, they cry out to God. After all, it was God who had freed them from bondage by inflicting the signs and wonders upon Egypt. They had every reason to believe that God was indeed a powerful savior. And a moment later, they cry out bitterly against Moshe, accusing him of the perfidy of having brought them out of Egypt to die at the hands of the Egyptian horsemen. “What have you done to us by taking us out of Egypt?!” they screamed. “We would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert!” What a puzzling juxtaposition. Did the people believe that they had been redeemed, or didn’t they? Did they think that God had brought them here, or did they not? How were they able to discriminate between God and God’s right-hand man, appealing to the former and lashing out against the latter?

Nachmanides, among many others, set out to explain the people’s odd behavior. He suggests that while the people wholeheartedly believed that it was God who had wrought the plagues, they were much less certain that it was God who had brought them out of Egypt. The route they took out of Egypt was not the one that headed in the direction of their promised land. It was rather the route that headed off into the arid wilderness. The silent suspicion had arisen in the minds of some that God had only brought the plagues to punish the Egyptians for the their evil treatment of the slaves and to break the yoke of Israelite bondage. It was Moshe’s idea alone to lead the people out of the country, perhaps with the intention of ruling over them himself. This silent suspicion now appeared to be confirmed by the thunder of Pharaoh’s horses approaching from the rear.

The people believed in God, but not in Moshe.

I find something surprising in this — at least initially surprising. For most of us, faith in God is not a simple matter at all. Whether for intellectual, historical or experiential reasons, there are times when we struggle with faith and feel unsure about the idea of trusting in God. By contrast, there are many people whom we have implicit faith in and whom we would trust with our lives. Yet, the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt implies the opposite order of difficulty. It was faith in people that was harder for them.

The simple explanation for this is that the person in question here, namely Moshe, was not someone whom the people had long known, or whom they had chosen as a partner in trust. He was a stranger whose declared intentions were certainly good but about whose track record they knew little. In short, Moshe was to them what most of the people in our world are to us — seems nice, but who really knows?

The sage Joshua ben Prachya gave the following advice regarding these many strangers and acquaintances who populate our world: “Grant every person the benefit of the doubt.” Without being naive, assume the best about people’s intentions and be willing to take the chance of trusting others. Your life will be enriched in ways you can’t imagine. And although Joshua was addressing this teaching to us as individuals, the Exodus story instructs us to think about the teaching on a communal level as well. The culmination of Israel’s redemption, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, required us to trust Moshe’s intentions when he instructed us to march forward onto the dry seabed.

The teaching here is that no community can be redeemed through trust in God alone. A community that truly yearns for redemption must also develop the courage to trust in one another and to see the goodness in one another’s actions. When mutual suspicion and mistrust are the order of the day, Israel will struggle, no matter how strong our faith in God may be. Whether it be here at home in our multifaceted Jewish community or in the State of Israel where dividing lines of all kinds prevail, the key to redemption is belief in one another. We must learn to trust, and we must act and speak in ways that will deem us worthy of one another’s trust.



Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles.

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