Shemot

The Plagues of Exodus & Today

Facing Our Plagues

In an Earth-Healing Activist Passover

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Faryn Borella *

During most of Jewish history, Passover has been seen as a tale of Jewish oppression and Jewish liberation. Since the Freedom Seder in 1969, many Jews have treated it as an opportunity to face social injustice and liberation more broadly, in other contexts including and going beyond the Jewish people:  racism, oppression of immigrants, or workers, or women, or GLBTQIA communities, or unjust wars. 

From that perspective, the Ten Plagues and their disturbance of the rhythms of Earth as well as of society have rarely been the focus of the Passover story – though they were the focus of the biblical story of the Exodus. But in our generation, haunted by the fear and the reality of deep disturbances in planetary climate and local weather patterns, the Plagues may claim new attention.

What were the Ten Plagues of Exodus, and what caused them? How might we think about them in the light of our own generation’s ecological disasters, and how might we think and act about our “climate crisis” in the light of the Exodus plagues?

There are two quite different theologies for explaining the plagues.

First is that a kind of Super-pharaoh in the sky brings on the Plagues in order to demonstrate His superior power to the human Pharaoh on the throne of Egypt and to the Egyptian and Israelite peoples, and coerce Pharaoh into letting the Israelites leave slavery and Egypt.

Second is that Pharaoh addicts himself to his own power and cruelty so that what begins as his hardening his own heart ends by God – that is, Reality – hardening Pharaoh’s heart as his addiction  rigidifies.  The Plagues are ecological disasters brought on by Pharaoh’s own addiction to subjugating humans, which results in his attempts to subjugate all Earth. Earth responds in agony, with the plagues.

The first way of understanding is easier to accept if the community of experience and memory follows a worldview built on Hierarchy: a God Who is Adonai and Melekh, Lord and King triumphs over a Pharaoh, who is beneath Him on the scale of lordship and kingship.

The second way of understanding is easier to accept if the community of experience and memory follows an ecological worldview in which human interactions with Earth bring on changes in great patterns because all life is interwoven. This would follow if YHWH is not “Adonai/ Lord” or “Melekh/ King” but YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh and Ruakh: the interbreathing of all life.

If all life is interwoven, then actions aimed at one sphere of life will have consequences in another sphere.  Attempts to pile up enormous wealth and power by insisting on the hyper-lucrative use of coal and oil and unnatural gas will have consequences on global temperatures --  heating and burning – and thus on forests,  fires, melting ice, torrential  floods, disease spread, etc.

From this perspective, there is no such thing as a “natural disaster” – a plague brought on by “Nature.” If there is one thing we learned from Hurricane Katrina, it is this: There is no such thing as a natural disaster. The natural world is capable of tremendous feats, but what makes them disastrous has everything to do with humanity. Where we live. The infrastructure we have in place. The tools we have at our disposal to respond. Repair. Heal. And all of these things are determined by sociological factors--race and class, nationalism and imperialism. What often renders the natural disastrous is the systems we humans put in place to create hierarchies and stratification.

But we, as humans, not only turn great upheavals into great disasters. In our own generation, we also now have great impact in the first place on what is natural. It is becoming increasingly clear that human action is taking what are natural occurrences and intensifying them to the point of calamity. There is nothing inherently wrong with an earthquake. A hurricane. A wildfire. This is Earth’s method of self-regulation from long before humanity was even a thought in its imagination.

But what happens when a component of that very Earth--the human race--usurps such power as to dysregulate the entire earth’s balance--inverts Earth’s entire operating system, weaponizing its own tools for healing against its self? We end up with superstorms. Mass species extinction. Crop Failure. Mass disease. Undrinkable water. Mass death. In short, planetary versions of the Plagues of the biblical Exodus.

 Earth--whether it be the Creator’s creation or the InterBreathing One Themself--will probably find a means to re-regulate, but this re-regulation may not include us. The human race. Only we have the power to ensure a future with us in it. And this requires first that we take notice.

One way that the Plagues are described in the Book of Exodus is as “signs and wonders.” The intention of the Plagues is to indicate that business as usual is no longer an option. They offer a disruption to daily life. They force us to take notice of what is already happening but what we have, thus far, been able to choose to ignore. They are both the direct consequence of corrupt abuse of power and the tool of resistance against it. They serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world order can be born.

The Plagues appear as natural disasters. But we know nothing about them is “natural.” They are by humans. To remind us of our collective power to make change. For humans. To awaken us to change our behavior. Through humans. So that we know our potential to serve as conduits for divine power.

Thus the natural disasters of our times serve too as plagues. They place us panim-el-panim, face-to-face with ourselves, forced to stare at ourselves in the mirror and confront what it is that we have done to ourselves. That we have done to Earth. And yet they also serve as a point of rupture out of which a new world of loving order can be born. They are both calamity and possibility. End and Beginning.

The biblical plagues needed to occur in order that Exodus be possible. So too it might be our unfortunate truth that these natural disasters must occur in order that a sustainable future be born. For when we as humans put the systems into place that are now destroying Earth, “we” did not do so with that intention in mind. It was an unforeseen consequence of what could only be understood at the time as progress toward the greater good.

 It is only in retrospect that we now more and more fully understand the consequences of these actions. And these consequences create openings--openings through which we can envision new ways of being. What do these calamities allow us to see that we might not have been able to see before? Once we realize the consequences, once we realize that some powerful corporations and governments keep upholding their habitual behavior despite knowing their disastrous consequences, how do we respond?  How might these “plagues” offer not only the problem but also the solution?

Therefore, we invite you in the Ten Days leading up to Passover to contemplate the Plagues of our times--both their destructive properties and the opening they give us to envision something better. To be with the pain of being confronted in order that the liberating possibility be laid bare before you. And to begin to dance with that liberating possibility, ever so slowly at first. More swiftly as we learn to understand. More swiftly still as we learn how swiftly the consequences come.

The devastation of the plagues was not linear nor progressive  --- a small one followed by a big one. What could be “bigger” than the first biblical plague --  all the water of a society becoming undrinkable?  They were cumulative. Each was devastating individually; cumulatively, they wre earth-shattering. So too are our plagues. Cumulatively, they are Collapse.

So we have assigned each plague a day to capture the linearity of the Exodus narrative, and to explore the ways in which each plague may be said o have its own its own contemporary analogue. We must attend to the double impact of each Plague  -- to damage us and to awaken us, to horrify us and to liberate us.  We grapple with the astounding parallels between the biblical story and our travail today. (Not so astounding if we realize that the biblical story of Exodus is a superlatively accurate tale of Power-Run-Amok, applicable in every generation and in any society.)

The non-linearity of the biblical plagues and their different numbering and ordering in different parts of the Tanakh demonstrate that this order is arbitrary. Therefore, we ask you to enter these ten days leading up to Pesach as a meditation upon the plagues of our time, and to engage with their non-linearity.

Perhaps the first way to do this is to treat the meaning of the Plagues, ancient and contemporary, as a spur for deep Torah-study. Then, perhaps, we can turn to activist plans for

Choose a plague. Or plagues. And take action aligned with their liberatory possibility. Choose to engage where you can. For you cannot address Collapse. But you can address one of the pillars that seem to make Collapse inevitable. Break one or more of these pillars, and you – we – make Collapse far less likely.

 

    Biblical Plagues

Contemporary Plague: Earthly Manifestation

 

Contemporary “Counter-Plagues with Liberating Potential

  Water into Blood

 

   Polluted, Undrinkable    Waters and Mass Droughts

Rainwater Catchments, Grey-Water Systems, Black-water systems

Frogs

 

Invasive Species and “Forever Plastics”

Treat “Forever Plastics” as invasive species. Stop making them. Isolate them from oceans and other vulnerable milieu.

 

Lice

Opioid Epidemic

Trauma Healing on Individual, Collective, Intergenerational and Ancestral Levels

Wild beasts

Species Extinction

 

Major expansion of Species Preservation Act & Reforestation

Pestilence of livestock

  Factory   Farming   Industry

 

Reducing Beef Consumption, Buying Local, Forbidding Antibiotic Suffusion of Livestock

Boils

Exacerbated Spread of Disease

 

Free Healthcare  for All

 

Thunderstorm of hail and fire

  Superstorms      and Wildfires

 

Local Disaster Preparedness Networks and destruction of energy monopolies.

Locusts

Crop Failures.

 

Local, Organic Farms.

 

 

Darkness

Mass Blackouts, reliance on mass fossil fuel monopolies

Congregation-based & neighborhood-based Solar Cooperatives; Renewable energy grids

 

 

Death of the firstborn

Climate Collapse and its destruction of the next generation

The Sunrise Movement and other youth movements demanding holistic action like the Green New Deal

               

 All the ancient Plagues were brought on by Pharaoh’s cruelty and stubbornness, by his addiction to his own power, and by his insistence on being treated as a god. Today the plagues are brought upon us by the addiction of major corporations and governments to their own power and by the public acceptance that their wealth is a marker of “the way things are and must be” – a quasi-Divine approval of the social system they dominate  -- the social system built on domination.

In the ancient Exodus, the power of the Interbreathing Spirit of all life undermined public acceptance of the Pharaoh’s authority. Today, a new paradigm -- an ecological, not hierarchical worldview -- must gain strength to undermine our modern pharaohs.

 Today, the Jewish people and all communities of Spirit face first of all whether we can transform our own worldviews from “Hierarchy” to “Ecology.” Whether we can renew our understanding of ourselves as “Godwrestlers.” The ancient enslaved Godwrestlers needed to end their deep attachment to the God of Nurture, El Shaddai, in order to connect with a new way of thinking about the world if they were to embark on their Freedom Journey. Just so must we  move from the God of Kingly Lordship to the God of Eco-Interbreathing if we are to join a living, a loving Earth. Only if we do this can we also turn to action, to “Exodus” not geographic but social, from Tight and Narrow Space (“Mitzrayim = Egypt”) to the Beloved Community, the Earth of Promise?  -- An Exodus that transforms society and makes all Earth a conscious, loving eco-system?

To end the power of modern pharaohs to subjugate our communities and all Earth, we must reframe spiritual, religious, and ethical understanding to celebrate the Interbreathing Spirit, not domineering King or Lord.

Through that spiritual transformation, in its very midst,  can we turn to action?  Perhaps in the week before Pesach --  could Jewish communities or multireligious alliances confront Members of Congress  or major banks that invest in  Carbon Pharaoh corporations or those corporations themselves, demanding action to end the plagues of Climate Crisis? On the evening of April 9 (the 2d night of Pesach), or perhaps on Sunday evening April 12 (the 5th night of Pesach) can communities or families create Pesach Seders that point toward and embody the Beloved Community and the Earth of Promise?

 [*Waskow is the founder (1983) and director of The Shalom Center; Borella is a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Ira Silverman Memorial Intern at The Shalom Center.]

BLOCKING "ICE" HQ in Washington DC

On Tuesday (July 16), I took part in a large Jewishly sponsored action -- "NEVER AGAIN MEANS NOW!" blocking entrances to the ICE headquarters in Washington DC. Ten of us at one of the entrances were arrested; evidently once ICE had opened that entrance they decided not to arrest those of us at other entrances. We sat blocking them for a sweltering three hours, after a huge gathering (more than 1,000) at the Mall. 

I was invited by the organizers to speak at both places. One the Mall I lifted up specific Torah passages about how to treat refugees (Deut 23: 15-16) and immigrants (Num 11) and spoke about the Shoah as bearing holy lessons for our own generation.

The Washington Post (plus other papers around the country that picked up the WaPo story)  quoted me:


"'You can't use a dictionary or an encyclopedia to understand the word 'concentration camp'; what you need is a calendar, because concentration camps over time turn into death camps if you don't stop them,' said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 85, who came from Philadelphia to stand outside the doors of ICE headquarters.
"Waskow, who became a rabbi after beginning public life as a civil rights activist more than 55 years ago, said he was ready to be arrested. He stood at the door as officers inside milled about. On his shirt, Waskow wore this message: 'Resisting tyrants since Pharaoh.'” 

I had added that  in organizing to affirm and embody that  “Never Again is Now,” we are not demeaning the memory of the Six Million but blessing their memory. For the most sacred wisdom we can take from the Holocaust is the understanding of how to halt any campaign of cruelty and subjugation against any community that could lead toward genocide. 

The Trumpist policy of cruelty toward both refugees and immigrants has already taken the first steps on that march into the darkest of disasters. “Never again” must indeed mean action now. 

 Every society faces that profound question: How do we treat "outsiders"? With love, or with fear, hatred, and violence? The American people and our government are not the first society in history to face the basic spiritual question of how to respond to people from outside the community. Long ago, the Hebrew Bible taught how to respond both to refugees and to settled immigrants. Torah pointed the way toward lchoosing love, for every society that inherits its wisdom -- though some have turned away from that wisdom. Torah teaches:

If people flee a tyrannical master, do not force them to return to their master. Welcome them to live within your borders wherever they choose. Do not maltreat them!”  (Deut. 23:16-17)

 “If a foreigner who lives in your country wishes to take part in Passover (the Festival of Freedom), welcome them to take part just as you do, for  there must be one law for the home-born and the foreigner.” (Num. 9:14)

 At the deepest roots of our morality are these 3000-year-old teachings of wisdom. Thank God – literally! -- that thousands today are acting to affirm them. 

 The reporter asked whether, at 85, I was tired of protesting. As the Post reports, I said:

“‘I'm not tired, but I am sad that it is still necessary to do this. I can't imagine how my grandparents, who came to this country thinking they could make a life of freedom here, how they would be feeling now,' he said, his voice shaking. 'It horrifies me to imagine.'"

At the ICE HQ, as we prepared to risk arrest, I retold the story of the first recorded acts of nonviolent civil disobedience:  the midwives Shifra & Puah who refused to obey Pharaoh’s orders to kill newborn babies, and then Miriam & Bat Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved Moses’ life. Probably the first act of resistance, I said, and for sure the second were “international feminist conspiracies”  -- just as Jews and Latinx were joining in these actions to protect refugees and immigrants.

And the Pharaoh's attack on children pointed toward a repeated tactic of tyrants who have planned genocide: Attack the children first. Since the human instinct to protect human children is so strong, if the tyrant gets away with that it proves these children are not really human -- and then their whole communiity can be dehumanized and murdered.

Beyond even that, for Pharaoh and for Trump, is a policy of bringing Plagues upon our Planet. The impulse to subjugate others, even Earth herself, becomes an addiction. Every act of resistance  -- protecting and freeing immigrants, and Blacks, and Muslims, and women, and the poor, and the suffocated middle class, and the free press, and Congress, and Earth -- becomes an act of protection for all the othes who are under attack.

 For a fuller report and more photos, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/10-protesters-arrested-inside-ice-headquarters-in-washington/2019/07/16/f030bb8e-a7d9-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html?utm_term=.8c9c41f3e536

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- the peace that is rooted in justce --  Arthur

Rabbi Arthur's Talk at the White House for #JeremiahJusticeJune12

The Fires that Destroy -- or the Burning Bush:

The Inner Fire of Love and Liberation

[At about 11:30 am or Noon EDT on Wednesday June 12,  hundreds of faith leaders from many diverse communities will gather at the White House to challenge an Administration that has violated two Covenants: the Constitution and the moral Covenant at the heart of every religious, spiritual, and ethical tradition and community. We are gathering at what Jeremiah (22:1-5) called the royal palace, called together by Reverend Doctor William Barber when he spoke at the #FreedomSeder50 organized by The Shalom Center on April 7. Many of us intend to risk arrest if necessary to freely speak our prophetic message as the First Amendment provides. Below is what I intend to say. (I may need to drop a couple of paragraphs to fit the tight time allotted to each speaker) --  Reb Arthur, editor]

Invocation for #JeremiahJusticeJune 12,  at the White House

We are the generation
That stands between the fires.



Behind us as Americans
Are the flames of burning crosses lit by hate  


to choke our people in the smoke of terror;
Still worse – the burning bodies hung from trees,
Strange burning fruit.

Behind us the fire that consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory,
Killing 145 immigrant women workers because its owners locked the exit doors;

Not yet behind us the glare of gunfire exploding in our children.
 
Behind us as human beings
The fire and smoke
That rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima,
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
      torched for the sake of fast hamburger.
 
Not yet behind us the hottest years of human history
     that bring upon us
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
 Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
 
Before us we among all life-forms
face the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

Where are we now, right now? ?

We face inside the White House the fires of the sin of subjugation –- threats to destroy millions of people in “fire and fury,” the deliberate encouragement of burning still more coal and oil and unnatural gas to scorch and burn our Mother Earth for the sake of hyper-wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs  --  all for the sake of the sin of subjugation, misbegotten from greed and arrogance, cruelty and hate:

Subjugation of racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities; of women denied the freedom of their own consciences; of children ripped from their parents’ arms; subjugation of the suffocating middle class, of workers, of family farmers, of the poor, and of people who fall sick; of immigrants and refugees; of the free press; subjugation of the Congress and of the Constitution; subjugation even of Earth, our common home.

The worst threat to American democracy since the Civil War.

The worst threat to human survival since our earliest human forebears ventured forth out of our African birthplace. 

What must we do? We must light again in our own hearts the fire of love and liberation that burned in the Burning Bush. The fire that did not destroy the Bush it burned in, the Fire that never was extinguished, can never be extinguished. The fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Sinai, to the Cross, to Mecca. The fire in the heart of every community and all Creation.  The fire that still lights the way to the Covenant for justice, compassion, healing and the empowerment of all.

It is our task to make from that fire
Not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see more clearly
The Rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life.

We must relight the inner fire of the Burning Bush that lit the way to Rabbi Heschel, “Where some are guilty [of terrible acts], all of us are responsible [to stop them].”  The fire of love and liberation that called on Brother Malcolm to give his life in pursuit of his new and deeper understanding of the universal message of Islam.  The inner fire that called Dr. King to give his life for love of Blacks killed for daring to vote, of Vietnamese farmers burnt by napalm,  of American soldiers sent to die for the sake of subjugation, of garbage workers treated as if they themselves were garbage, of the first multiracial Poor Peoples Campaign  --  all and always, in pursuit of the Beloved Community.

It is the Burning Bush that burned and burned and was not consumed that brings us here today and that we light again  --

 So that we leave here with the Burning Bush aflame within us, to ACT for love and liberation.

Murderous White Nationalists, Modern Pharaohs, and the Sea of Reeds

As virulent White Nationalism spreads, we must affirm and act on our solidarity and shared sorrow with the dead of “Tree of Life” and its site-sharing synagogues in Pittsburgh, of the Al Noor Mosque and Lynwood Mosque in New Zealand, of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

In Philadelphia, a dozen rabbis and about 20 other Jews  responded by joining the Jumaah (Friday afternoon) prayers at Masjidullah, a leading mosque.  We were warmly welcomed by the Muslim community. On Saturday evening, at LOVE Park near City Hall, about 300 people took part in a gathering initiated by CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic-Relations). Representatives of the city and state governments spoke alongside clergy from several religious traditions. I was able to share the seeing and the meaning of my Tallit (prayer shawl).

 

  

As you see, woven physically as well as symbolically into it are sacred places of Judaism and Islam – the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock – and if you look carefully between them, the Rock itself on which Abraham our Forebear bound Isaac and from which the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,  leapt into his mystical journey to Heaven.

I arranged to have it woven for me in 1974 after I added “Ishmael” to my Hebrew name (“Avraham Yitzchak Yishmael,” =  "Ibrahim Is'haq" Ismail"“ = "Abraham Isaac Ishmael”) adding the traditional forebear of the Arab peoples and the transmitter of the values of islam taught by his parents Abraham and Hagar --  thus uniting in my name, my self, all the families of the Abrahamic tradition within me. 

 On Saturday night, I explained that ever since, when there is violence within the broader family between its different cohorts, I feel myself torn apart. When we turn to love and healing with each other, I feel whole within. I suggested we all need to see ourselves, each of us and each of our communities and traditions, with each of the others living within us. With that awareness expanding our tradition, not watering it down.

 Not Muslim “theys” died in New Zealand, not Christian “theys”in South Carolina, not Jewish “theys” in Pittsburgh, but ALL OF US in all three places.

 White Nationalism has become the Pharaoh oppressing us all. Just like the ancient Pharaoh who said to his folk of "pure blood and soil," --  

“There is a people, immigrants with a different religion and a different language from our pure-blood Egyptians. who may turn against us, become terrorists to join with our enemies. We must subjugate them, enslave them, even murder their children. We must deploy brutal “overseers” [=racist police], incite unofficial members of the public into hatred and murder, and ultimately mobilize my horse-chariot Army to repress them!” 

 And this ancient Pharaoh and our modern pharaohs brought plagues upon not only human communities but our shared Mother Earth herself. Plagues that were eco-disasters, killing human beings through undrinkable water, famine, and disease.

 

We must see the Modern Pharaohs' attacks on climate science and decent climate policy as part of the same White Nationalist mind-set: --  For the Hyper-Wealthy Corporate Carbon Pharaohs, everything. For those who drink water, breathe air, farm the land, eat the food, nothing.  

 

 Friday was a day of disaster.  It was also a day of grass-roots transformation. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren went on strike around the world, demanding that our governments act NOW to keep their lives livable 30 or 40 years from now.

Pharaohs always breed Resistance.  Which will be victorious?  The answer is blowing in the Wind, the Breath of Life, the Interbreathing Spirit of us all, that Holy ONE Whose Name can only be "pronounced" by breathing. And by Action.

The ancient Pharaoh's arrogance, stubbornness, cruelty ended when the Pharaoh’s power dissolved into the Sea of Reeds. 

 Today We the People must become the Sea of Reeds. Each of us a reed that may for a moment bend but never break, after each momentary bending springing upright to catch the Pharaohs and dissolve their power.

We can turn our own memories of resistance to Pharaoh past, encoded in the Passover Seder, into an “insightment” of future transformation.


RThat is what the Interfaith Freedom Seder + 50 will be, as national leaders of the Resistance and local survivors-and-resisters of plagues come together.  If you live in or near Philadelphia, you can register for a Dinner and/or the Seder at TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50. The cost of both will rise on March 23, so register NOW. There will be no walk-ins.

 If you live more than 70 miles from Philadelphia, you can pick up the live-streamed Seder by registering here:

TINYURL.COM/FREEDOMSEDER50LIVE

You can invite friends to join with you, or organize a larger Seder. You can watch and listen to it all, or single out some parts and bring your own local leaders and organizers to speak.

 Fifty years after the original Freedom Seder, in another time of deep crisis in American democracy and now in our planet’s history as well, I look forward to joining with you on April 7!

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace –- at a moment when each of those languages radiates both hurt and transformation. --  Arthur

 

Sacred Memories, Sacred Futures

[We are sharing with you today a poem by Rabbi Mike Rothbaum that powerfully addresses Yom HaShoah, the Memorial Day for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Rabbi Rothbaum is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton, Mass. His poem, as its title points out, treats Yom HaShoah not only as a memorial for them but also as a warning to the future – and not for Jews alone. See my further thoughts along these lines after Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem. --  ED]

A Poem on a Day that I Saw Another Man Learn He Was Being Deported --  A Day that is also Yom haShoah:

By Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Boundary/crosser//border/crosser

Border crossers/cross borders

Hebrews/Jews have been crossing
borders ever/since there have
been/Hebrews

From Abraham and/Sarah
He and her/up from Ur to
Haran to/Canaan to/Egypt
Back/to Canaan.

And ever/since
Ever since/Babylon
Cross/ing borders
Constantinople/Córdoba/Cairo/
Vilna/Minsk/Pinsk
The Rhine/The Seine/Sana/Seville/
Ellis Island/Long Island/
Long Beach/Miami Beach

We/cross

And as it is/the time
as it has/been time
to cross/borders

Before we/cross
the/border from 
freedom/to Pharaoh
fashionable/fascism

refuse/the fear
refuse to/obey
order out the/nightmares
the knocks in/the night
that wake the/babies
sew your/soul into
the lining of your/coat
smuggle the children/out
under a heavy/wool blanket
of passion and/principle
know your/limits
and the/borders you
won’t cross/for
any/leader
any/order
any/any.

If you’re a Hebrew/Jew
you already know/what this hour means.
Your ancestors saw/it and
they buried it in/your body
for a time/such as now.

They call/to/you.

Cross the/border
cross/the aisle
break/the bonds
of/party
and/panic
and/anxious
depression/make
a manic/run for it
don’t turn/around
or see who’s/behind you
the hour/is late
and the Master/of the
House/is pressing.

You carry in your/hand
an Executive/Order
Written by the/Eternal
and stamped by/your ancestors

The word/in Hebrew 
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Cross the/border
Show them the/order
Carry/it out
Before/it
//expires//


In Pharaoh’s mouth, “ivri” was contemptuous, like “rootless cosmopolites” on Stalin’s tongue  (about Jews) and like “wetbacks” in US vernacular, about Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande to enter the  United States.


Leaping back three millennia, notice that Pharaoh faced Egyptians who had lost their farms and homes as all power became centralized in Pharaoh's throne. (Gen 47:13-26) They were probably angrily muttering  about their dispossession. So Pharaoh distracted them by pointing at a "foreign" community. He warned them about a community of immigrants, “border-crossers,” who spoke a strange language and observed a strange religion. There were too many of them, he said. They might side with Egypt’s enemies and become an internal threat. Even terrorists.  Time for genocide. And it was two women -- midwives -- who were the first to birth Resistance. (Exodus I: 8-22)

Sound familiar?  Just the past?

 

Rabbi Rothbaum’s poem invites us to see the sacred day of a much more recent “history” as beckoning us to see the possible future.  And not just a Jewish future. Walking this path, sacred days become not times for rote recitation of memories, but beacons of deeper spiritual activism for social, cultural, and political transformation.

That is one of the crucial aspects of a living, growing, self-transforming religion and culture. If we do this, members of our communities who have been sleepwalking through our sacred memories or who have out of boredom simply walked away from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples can become “woke”  to the energy within them. They – we! – can draw on that energy to save our lives and Mother Earth.

In these last weeks, The Shalom Center has joined in reawakening the energy of Dr. King’s wisdom by lifting up his 5Oth death-anniversary and connecting it to the vision of Passover, the agony of Good Friday, and the life-affirming joy of Easter.

We welcome you to read and see what these reawakenings have done:

For an on-line Tikkun Magazine article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Feb 2017,  on preparation for MLK’s 50th yahrzeit:

https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/creating-mlk-50-a-jubilee-year-of-truth-and-transformation-spiritual-roots-political-fruit-april-4-2017-to-april-4-2018

 

For an online Sojourners magazine essay in March 2018 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow  on historic crises in 1968 and 2018 and their impact on Freedom Seders:

< https://sojo.net/articles/freedom-seders-old-and-new-crises-1968-and-2018>

 

For a Philadelphia Inquirer report on the relationship between the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder and the sixth annual “Freedom Seder Revisited” program of the National Museum of American Jewish History celebrated in Philadelphia:

<http://www.philly.com/philly/news/freedom-seder-passover-easter-mlk-assassination-philly-rabbi-arthur-waskow-shalom-center-20180327.html>

 

 For a Washington Post review of the meaning of the original Freedom Seder and a report on the new MLK+50 Interfaith Freedom Seder celebrated in the Washington DC area:

<https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/03/29/the-freedom-seder-the-anti-racism-dinner-party-that-changed-american-judaism/?utm_term=.dfbf3b873f90>

Torah for Tumultuous Times: April 2017

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory with desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”



So said T.S. Eliot, riffing on Walt Whitman’s

"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd ...

I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring"

about the April death of Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was our greatest President because he was the one who did the most — not then or yet enough — to wrench America loose from the inheritance of slavery and to breed an expanded democracy out of the bleeding land.

Mixing memory with desire: The recipe for the Pesach Seder, usually in April, breeding freedom, past and future, out of the Narrow Land and its Narrow Pharaoh.

April — the cruellest month of American history, the yohrzeit month of Lincoln, FDR, and Martin Luther King,

This April,  we face our own Pharaoh, the American President who is already the worst, stifling democracy and choking Earth at every breath:

Then a new king came to power in the Land that became Tight and Narrow.

“Look,” he said to his people,

“The Godwrestling People have become far too numerous for us.

Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous

And, if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us

And rise up over  the country.”

So they put police over them to oppress them.

The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom

The Short Colorful Passover Gift-Books for Kids & Their Grown-Ups
As Passover approaches, you may find especially delicious a colorful way to share the story with your children or grandchildren, your friends' kids, your Seder hosts and guests, and for that matter with grown-ups who are open to laughng at loooong narrow pharaohs of the past as well as the present.  

 



That’s what our words and the wonderful pictures by Avi Katz (a creative illustrator for the Jerusalem Report)  do with this new brief and colorful book --  The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  We share a new story of both resistance to a cruel ruler and the birthing of a new community.

(Or maybe it's not just an old story, since the Pharaoh tried to incite hatred of an immigrant community who talked a strange languag and had a different religion. Uncannily familiar, maybe? )

(Anyway, the story we tell sure is new --  Like, Did you ever hear it was really the midwives who inspired and led the Exodus itself? Was that a secret, long kept hidden by the men who wrote our Bibles?  Or was it --- shshsh!)

The long narrow Pharaoh ordered two midwives, Shifra and Puah -- to kill the boy-babies of that immigrant community, the Cross-Over People.  BUT ---



 

AND THEN --  (Sh-sh-sh, you remember that Women's March last January, all over America and all around the world?)

But we don't want to spoil the story by telling what happens next.  Get the book to find out!

You can order The Loooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives  Who Gave Birth to Freedom  by clicking here:

<https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X>  

At the bottom of the same Amazon page you’ll find another of our books,  The Rest of Creation,

8 nights of Hanukkah, my True Love says to me ----

For 8 days of Hanukkah, my True Love said to me:

“Help heal My Earth!”

 Hanukkah brings with it again this year three crucial teachings about healing our Mother Earth from the ravages of global scorching

The Green Menorah, a Tree of Light that is a fusion of human craft and Earth’s growth. On this Shabbat we read the Prophetic passage from Zechariah that emplaces the Temple Menorah as part of a tiny forest of olive trees that give forth their oil straight into the Menorah.  

We breathe in what these Trees of Light breathe out; they breathe in what we breathe out. We take new inner strength by breathing in the God Who breathes all life, by opening our eyes  to the Source of all Light in this wintry season of our dark foreboding.

We realize that Hanukkah teaches: We humans are not lords of the Earth, but part of the Earth. These trees feed us as we feed them. Read a little further to see how we at The Shalom Center are ourselves doing this, with your help.


The tradition of resistance to Imperial Antiochus and his Empire’s desecration of the Temple –-- a resistance crystallized in the teaching by Zechariah: “Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit [b’ruchi — or even, “by My wind!”]. We take new inner strength to resist the Empires of our day – Big Carbon – that today are burning, despoiling, desecrating the Holy Temple Earth of all cultures and all creatures.  We take new inner strength not only to resist harm but to heal and grow the sprouts for our own Trees of Light.

The legend that one day’s worth of olive oil lasted for eight days –a teaching that we ourselves can minimize our use of oil and coal and unnatural gas; can through conservation and the sustainable use of sun and wind reshape our country and the world; can shave off seven-eighths of the fossil-fuel burning that is scorching earth and killing thousands.

 

That is our own Green Menorah commitment. We ask you – after lighting your menorah each evening – to dedicate yourself to making the changes in your life that will allow our limited sources of energy to last for as long as they’re needed, and with minimal impact on our climate.

Day 1: Hanukkah begins Saturday evening December 24; so we ceremonially say farewell to Shabbat before we light the candle to honor the first day.  We take note that the same evening, the Christian community is also celebrating the coming of new light into a world that seems dark.   Look carefully at the candle and notice that at its heart there is a spot of dark, like  a seed that sprouts into a glow of light.

We might, as we watch the candles flicker, talk about the darkness that has fallen on our country and indeed on our hopes for healing our wounded Mother Earth  -- and what for each of us it means to rellght the candle of rededication, of commitment, of action.

You might take a few minutes to order on Amazon two colorfully illustrated Waskow-Berman books: The Rest of Creation and The Looooong Narrow Pharaoh and the Midwives Who Gave Birth to Freedom.  If you order them on Sunday they will arrive before next Shabbat, when you can enjoy reading them on  the Shabbat of Hanukkah. Click here.
https://www.amazon.com/Looooong-Narrow-Pharaoh-Midwives-Freedom/dp/069275721X/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=069275721X

Day 2: This year, Monday December 26 is a national holiday.  If possible, choose today to not use your car at all. Spend some of the day outdoors, enjoying Earth. Choose one day each week when as we move into the new secular year, you will not use your car. Every day, lessen driving: use public transit, bike, walk. Cluster errands.  Carpool. Don’t idle engine
beyond 20 seconds.

Day 3. Home and workplace: This Tuesday morning, call your electric-power utility to switch to wind-powered electricity. (For each home, 100% wind-power reduces CO2 emissions the same as not driving 20,000 miles in one year.)  Urge the top officials of your workplace to arrange an energy audit and switch to wind-powered electicity.

Day 4. National policy. In the morning, call 202-224-3121 and ask to speak to the Senators for your state. (If you are from DC, with still no Senator, call Senators McConnell, majority leader, and Schumer, minority leader.)  

Urge your Senators to oppose President-elect Trump’s appointments of three rapacious wolves to "guard” the Garden of all Earth, our common home, our common future:  Exxon boss Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State ;   anti-EPA extremist and denier of climate crisis Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA for trying to reduce CO2 emissions, to be chief of the EPA; and Rick Perry,  ex-Governor of Texas who sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, developer of the Dakota Oil Access Pipeline that tried to mutilate the sacred lands of the Sioux Nation and endanger the great Missouri River, [To read more, please click on "Read More" in red just below.]

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