Bo El Paroh – Go, Confront the Pharaoh!
Ross and I were in Paris on Election Day in 2016. We went to sleep certain the election would go one way and awakened to a surreal world. Events of the past four years have been too horrific not to take seriously; nevertheless, it’s felt like a reality that just cannot be, nonsensical, absurd. I won’t say I slept through it, certainly not, but I did my best to dissociate from the voice of the American President. Now, yesterday and today, I feel something akin to what my colleague Rabbi Elyse Sydner Joseph meant when she wrote she’s ”getting up from shiva… tender, exhausted, shaky… tentatively ready to face life.”
This week’s Torah portion begins, after the suffering of plagues, with God’s insistence that Moses face the oppressor: Bo el Paroh – Go, to Pharaoh! Face him down! After prolonged darkness, with lapses of real hopelessness, and with many divides yet to be acknowledged, confronted and healed, the American people have prevailed against their Pharaoh with the resistance of Democratic process.
And at the inauguration, the world was gifted with words to lift the spirit, bringing hope into the center of the void. “Where can we find light?” asked poet Amanda Gorman, entreating us to lift our gazes, “not to what stands between us, but [to] what stands before us.” She reminded us all that we are always never broken, rather, simply unfinished – as humans who do teshuva, as communities that are self-critical and aspirational, as nations with the checks and balances that can right the course of our histories. And she challenged the nation with what our beloved Reb Zalman called “backward compatibility,” meaning a future that exemplifies the best of our past. “If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory [will] lie in the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise… the hill we climb if only we dare it, because being American is more than a pride we inherit – it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”
New freedom is portended in Torah and in U.S. history this week. And even as the pandemic rages, vaccines have begun to be distributed. A week from today we will celebrate Tu B’shvat, a change of seasons in our tradition when sap rises in our trees signaling blossoms and fruits to come. Amanda Gorman’s blessing speaks to me and I wish to channel it to you. May we, indeed, begin to “step out of the shade.” May we embody the agency she calls upon in us, “the new dawn bloom[ing] as we free it.”
“Where is the light?” she had asked. Our tradition would say, “wherever we let it in.” Similarly, the poet answers: “There is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.
May it be so.
And a Sabbath of Renewal to All.