Oppression as “Normal” (Beyond 4)

“We are descendants of slaves who do not yell back that Moses had a Black wife and Black children and that #BlackLivesMatter to our people whether or not we acknowledge it.” So concluded yesterday’s post. And we know, from the Exodus story, that yelling is a key element in redemption:

And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.
וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם, וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה.
וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב.
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיֵּדַע, אֱלֹהִים.
— Exodus 2:23-35, Old JPS translation via Mechon-Mamre

It’s only after the yelling starts that God responds. Moreover, it’s only after the crying out that God “knows,” another layer of “not knowing” at the start of the tale.

And why weren’t the people crying?

A common explanation is that the people were crushed by years of oppression, perhaps even treated their circumstances as normal.

Circumstances: Normal?

Not long after the police murder of Walter Scott, on April 4, in North Charleston, SC, the Mic shared the following:

13. Right now, justice seems to be escaping us, while tragedy continues to befall us.

14. Be vigilant, people say. Death by police should not be common.

15. But black people dying after being shot or choked by police should not be moments we must be on the ready to capture on smart phones.

16. Now is time for change, people say. This is a 21st-century American tragedy of epic proportions. None of this should be normal.

17. And yet, it already is.
— “17 Honest Thoughts from a Black Man After Watching that Walter Scott Video,” by Darnell L. Moore, senior editor at Mic

In addition, poverty, lack of education, and mass incarceration of Black people are all so long-standing as to seem “normal.”

Last November, when the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was followed by unrest in Ferguson, MO, Jay Smooth expressed wonder at the people’s “human limit”:

…For the people of Ferguson a lifetime of neglect and de facto segregation and incompetence and mistreatment by every level of government was not their limit

When that malign neglect set the stage for one of their children to be shot down and
left in the street like a piece of trash that was not their limit…

When he came out and confirmed once and for all that Mike Brown’s life didn’t matter,
only then did the people of Ferguson reach their limit….

How did these human beings last that long before they reached their human limit?

How do Black people in America retain such a deep well of humanity that they can be pushed so far again and again without reaching their human limit?

Their Cry Rose Up

At least one midrash suggests that the Hebrews actually needed God’s help to cry out:

Immediately, as their cry rose up, salvation begins. Till then, they had not had any arousal to cry and to pray. But since God wanted to save them, He roused in them a cry — and that is the beginning of redemption. For before God wants to save, one does not see one’s own lack, one is unaware of what one has not. But when God wants to save, He shows one the root of one’s lack, so that one sees that all the complexity of one’s needs is rooted in this basic lack. And He gives one the power of prayer, of crying out to God. One begins to rage to God about it…
Mei Hashiloah (Shemot 2), quoted in Avivah Zornberg’s Particulars of Rapture

If U.S. Jews are, indeed, “descendants of slaves who do not yell back,” what will it take to arouse in us the rage that begins the process of redemption rolling?

(More in coming days.)

We counted 4 on the evening of April 7. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.


Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is five days in the Omer.
Hayom chamishah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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