Exodus: from state violence to resistance to liberation

The story of Exodus opens with state-mandated oppression and violence against a rapidly growing minority population, increasingly feared by the ruling majority (brief summary). Women of different communities and classes engage in resistance, separately and jointly, that eventually leads to toppling of the entire system.

From Violence to Resistance

Today, many in the U.S. are calling for acknowledgement of “the structural violence and institutional discrimination that continues to imprison our communities either in a life of poverty and/or one behind bars,” and recognition of “the full spectrum of our human rights and its obligations under international law.” Black Lives Matter addresses

…a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise….an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression….we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement Black poverty and genocide is state violence.

Midwives Shifrah and Puah act against the state, we are told, because “they feared God,” prompting them to act in preservation of life. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg elaborates:

…the very extremity of the edict forces a new moral vision upon the midwives, a radical choice between life and death. Disobedience to Pharaoh becomes more than merely a refusal to kill, it becomes a total dedication to nourishing life.
— Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, p.23 (full citation)

Similarly, I think, the Herstory of #BlackLivesMatter exhorts us:

…when Black people cry out in defense of our lives, which are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state, we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives. Not just all lives. Black lives. Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it.

Pledging Resistance?

Ferguson Action is asking individuals to declare 2015 their “year of resistance.”

I pledge to make 2015 my year of resistance to state violence against Black lives.

I challenge myself and those in my community to take risks as we confront the many ways that Black lives are diminished and taken from us….

This year, I will declare boldly and loudly through my words and actions, that #BlackLivesMatter.
Ferguson Action Pledge

Does Exodus — with its powerful examples of resistance — call us to anything less?
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A House of Prayer for All People?

“…to the poor person who is with you [et-he’ani imach]…” (Exodus 22:24)

Listen! 
Did that study group just ask “us” to consider the plight of “the poor”?
Did that prayer just focus on “the needy” as though we were weren’t present? 
Is this house of prayer really for all people?

Listen! 
Recognize the special burdens of relative wealth, but don’t assume everyone here bears them. 
Acknowledge privilege but don’t assume everyone present enjoyed its fruits. 
And never speak as though “the poor” are not in the house. 

Listen!
Can you hear the sounds of loss and fear, struggle and stress all around you?  
Know the difference between sleeping on a park bench and moving in with friends when house payments fail; 
Realize that worrying about whether one will eat today is different from making excuses to skip business lunches; 
Understand that dropping out of college is more catastrophic than struggling on without textbooks or funds to visit home; 
And be aware that never having a day of economic ease sits on one’s consciousness differently than losing one’s pension. 
But remember that no challenge is easy to manage just because someone else is facing a greater — or a different — one.
Hear, and honor, everyone’s experience.

Only then, when all have listened and all have heard. Only then, when our language and our minds make room for the full variety around us… only then, together, will our “light blaze forth like the dawn” and our “wounds quickly heal.”

(2012, CC BY-NC-SA)

Strength to the Weary

Hard winter earth. Gray February days. Thank God for hidden sap!

Celebrating trees when we are surrounded by cherry blossoms — or other local tree-life — might seem more sensible than doing so on a day like today. But Judaism’s “tree holiday,” is more about the tiny bit of sap, running unseen under winter earth, than it is about visible signs of new growth. Tu B’shvat, the 15th of the month of Shevat in the Jewish calendar (Feb. 8 this year) is the “New Year for Trees.” According to Talmudic discussion, it takes place after “the greater part of the year’s rain has fallen and the greater part of the cycle is still to come” (Rosh HaShanah 14a).

Two notes in Siddur Koren Mesorat HaRav, although both offered as commentary on the morning blessings, seem particularly pertinent for this holiday.
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Chayei Sarah, Shabbat and Transgender Remembrance

Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1 – 25:18), begins:

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה
And the life of Sarah was a hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.

We have not heard from Sarah since Chapter 21, when she asked Abraham to send out the maid-servant Hagar and her child, Ishmael, born to Abraham. Midrash offers many suggestions for what happened to Sarah between that moment and her death, reported here. Avivah Zornberg suggests that Sarah died from an experience of “the reversibility of joy,” in relation to the Akedah [binding of Isaac]. (Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, [JPS, 1995], p. 399)

Without short-changing what Zornberg has to say about Sarah’s life and death — which I recommend everyone read — I thought this single idea of death by “reversibility of joy” worth considering…especially as we enter Shabbat tonight, with Transgender Remembrance Day ahead of us and weeks of turmoil behind us.
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