This is a reprint of an article that appeared in this month’s JUF news. It speaks to me for today’s honoring of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He shined the spotlight and made us all pay attention. We have to keep it up.
“I have now heard the moaning of the Israelites because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.” (Ex 6:5) I’ve always wondered why it took so long for God to hear the moaning. That’s when God remembers the covenant? Not before? Not when the people were suffering?
Many have asked that question, and I’m not sure I have a suitable answer. But I do think about the idea of a people’s groaning getting so loud that attention, as Arthur Miller wrote, must be paid.
Attention must be paid…by someone. In the Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman’s wife demands that respect be given to her husband, the boys’ father, not just for the flawed human being he is, but for the basic human dignity that he deserves. Willy had his own way of getting out from under the oppression of his psyche, and it didn’t end well. But Linda knew he deserved attention, just like every other human being.
The Israelites deserved it, too, and God is finally paying attention. It’s only a first step. Attention must be followed by positive, purposeful action, which is exactly what Moses did, and what Willy Loman didn’t do. Under orders from God, the manifestation, the on-the-ground proof that God was finally paying attention was that Moses started to act. He went to Pharaoh, he performed mysterious acts of God’s power, and he stepped up to lead them out of oppression.
God may hear, but humans act. God can’t do it alone. Not that God can’t; after all, God can do all manner of things. But God doesn’t act alone here. God finds someone on this plane to carry forth the work needed to be done.
Back when God first approached Moses about this particular work to be done, in chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses doth protest greatly. He says he’s not worthy, he says he can’t speak well, he asks how he is to call God’s name. Reluctantly, Moses takes up the task, and goes with Aaron to the people, performs “signs in the sight of the people” (Ex 4:30) and they are convinced. Without the people’s confidence, Moses couldn’t have marched into Pharaoh’s presence.
Finally, attention was being paid to a people who need it, who have been so forgotten as to forget themselves what it is to be free. It took a lot of miracles, true, but it took human miracles also. It took humans who recognized that their own dignity was worth paying attention to. It took conviction and courage to make a real change in their lives, regardless of how many signs and wonders showered down among the Egyptians.
We need that attention now.When people have had enough of oppression, when people have had enough of weeping and mourning, of being enslaved to violence, hatred, and intolerance, then attention must be paid not only by God, but more importantly, by us. We can be the Moses they need. We can be the miracle-workers they need. But first we have to pay attention, hear the moaning of those under the tyranny of guns, wherever it is. On the street corner, in the alleyways, in Israel, Europe, here at home. Pay attention, and do something. March into the halls of the Pharaohs, and make human miracles happen.