From Light to Darkness to Light: A Time for Hope

By sheer coincidence, the Torah portion (parsha) reading for Shabbat following the inauguration is Shemot, the first five chapters of the book of Exodus. Anyone who has taken part in a Passover Seder will be familiar with much of the meaning of Exodus. The story is one of darkness, followed by redemption and light, ending on a note of faith in great things to come.

 

Turning Curses into Blessings

In the aftermath of what must be the most depressing and nasty election campaigns in U.S. history, capped by a very dark inaugural address, the story of Exodus gives hope. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in December 2015 wrote an inspirational commentary on this very parsha, “Turning Curses into Blessings.” He remarks on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. Then, continues Rabbi Sacks, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he says, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

david_roberts-israelitesleavingegypt_1828

“Departure of the Israelites,” by David Roberts, 1829 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

womens_march_2017-01_12

Women’s March, by VOA Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The multitudes of the Israelites said they would not have any more of Pharaoh’s oppression and embarked on a great march. On Saturday, January 21, the day immediately after the inauguration of President Trump, people across the nation and around the world declared they would not stand for the erosion of civil rights his rhetoric and views represent. The story of the protests, like the book of Exodus, offers much reason to hope, for us in the present and, more important, our children in the future.

The book of Exodus tells of suffering under an oppressive tyrant. For the Israelites, things get worse before they get better. However, in the end, they – with divine intervention – rid themselves of Pharaoh.

640px-the_crossing_fo_the_red_sea

“Crossing the Red Sea,” by Nicholas Poussin

israels_escape_from_egypt

Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Hardening One’s Heart

Pharaoh’s heart became harder with each passing plague set upon the Egyptians. During the initial plagues, Pharaoh had the opportunity to let the Israelites go. Eventually, however, God took away Pharaoh’s free will, hardening his heart for him.

tissot_moses_speaks_to_pharaoh

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses Speaks to Pharaoh (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

Because everyone is capable of redemption, Pharaoh had one last chance at the Sea of Reeds. With his heart ever hardened, he led his troops into the sea. I find myself asking what will happen to President Trump’s heart. Will his heart soften, or will he lead his followers into the salty depths?

 

Speaking for All People

In this parsha, Chapter 4 (verses 10 through 17), Moses tells God, “Please, O Lord, I hav never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Jewish Publication Society Tanakh translation). The text continues: “And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?'”

tissot_moses_and_aaron_speak_to_the_people

Jacques Joseph Tissot, Moses and Aaron Speak to the People (watercolor circa 1896–1902)

In other words, all people – despite their disability – are equal in God’s creation. His brother, Aaron, assists him with speaking, but eventually it is Moses who leads his people out of darkness to a land of milk and honey.

Thank You, President Obama

President_Barack_Obama.jpg

Calendars everywhere proclaim today, January 20, 2017, as Inauguration Day. As someone who is dedicated to advocating for children, as well as people with disabilities and other marginalized communities (e.g., African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and LGBT people), for me today is a day to say good bye to a champion of these groups, to thank him and the First Family for all they have done. Barack Obama has been a man of action, a man of words and conviction, and a role model.

Clearly, Obama touched the lives of so many Americans who wrote to him. He took it upon himself to answer at least ten letters a day. Some of the letters were angry. Yet, Obama took the time to respond with hope and empathy.

Indeed, the First Family was “a master class in dignity and civility.” But “Did we learn what they taught?”  

Ellen DeGeneres, likewise a figure of humor and grace, gave an eight-year retrospective tribute to the president she said she loved as much as admired:

 

My “Obama moment”? There are so many, but his rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the horrific hate crime shooting of the church’s pastor and congregants engaged in a Bible study will forever haunt me. As will Barack Obama’s tearful speech after the unspeakable shooting and murder of innocent children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut.

OK, that was many years after I read his two books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. The year 2008 seemed like a time in which we, with the life-affirming optimism of the child, could dare to dream and hope.

Obama’s January 10 farewell speech was magic.

As was his letter of farewell, in which he said “And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’ Yes, we can.”

And one more time from his Obama Foundation, he and Michelle, thanked the nation.

His legacy was erased from the White House website as soon as Mr. Trump took the oath of office. Fortunately, it has been preserved in archives. And Barack Obama invites people to share their thoughts with him.

I no longer follow @POTUS on Twitter. It’s now @POTUS44. And @FLOTUS44. No longer @Whitehouse, but @ObamaWhiteHouse, White House Archived.

 

Barack Obama has reason to thank this great nation. However, I want to thank him and his wonderful family.

Yes, we can.

For that, President Obama, I am thankful.