I have a friend who posted that “inauguration” means marking the beginning of something, and so challenged us to respond with whatever we are going to begin tomorrow. Well, I answered “to keep raising my voice to speak [for] truth and justice.” That may sound incredibly lofty and dramatic. But we are standing on the eve of a different inauguration, one that is bringing out the lofty in me, or at least, the desire to strive for the lofty…and dramatic.
This week’s parasha is Shmot, the first parasha of the book of Shmot, Exodus. There is so much to learn from this week’s portion. It’s a great portion. Moses’ birth, the burning bush, the moment when God reveals God’s-self (I am who I am), and more. But I am riveted this evening by this: the beginning of the journey to freedom started with subversive, morally consistent and intentional acts of justice.
Shifra and Puah. The Hebrew midwives. Rashbam says they were midwives who were Hebrews rather than Egyptian women who were midwives to the Hebrews. Abarbanel says the opposite; they were Egyptian women who were midwives for the Hebrews, for how could Pharaoh expect Hebrew women to kill Hebrew babies? It doesn’t matter. Shifra and Puah were told by Pharoah to kill all Hebrew baby boys, and said no. By that time, the leadership had separated out one people, the Israelites, from the others, though they had lived in Egypt for hundreds of years. Then, the leadership decided to enslave the Israelites and make their lives hard. No one spoke up. No one stood with them. Only two women, Shifra and Puah, said no. When Pharaoh called them to the palace, to find out why so many Hebrew boys were still living, they lied to the king, saying the Israelite women birthed too quickly, and the midwives couldn’t get their fast enough to kill the babies.
Shifrah and Puah didn’t just birth babies. Shifrah and Puah birthed an entire nation’s trek to freedom, simply by saying no, they wouldn’t take part in marginalizing or victimizing a vulnerable people.
We are on the eve of what I consider to be the results of an enormous shift in the acceptable social foundational values. I am not Shifrah or Puah, but I decided that I won’t spend the next four years holding back on speaking truth in the pursuit of justice. I believe what happens tomorrow demands nothing less. I’m not exaggerating, I’m not giving in to hyperbole or panic. I believe I’m seeing clearly what is at stake. I have lived through bad presidents. This is different. I have lived through the inaugurations of men with whom I’ve disagreed tremendously, and I knew we would survive until the next election because the basic protections of liberty and freedoms were inviolate, or so I thought. I believe in our country, and our institutions and our Constitution. This is different.
So, I’m not staying as quiet anymore, and I wasn’t that quiet before. I will march on Shabbat, I will show up. I will pray with my feet, as Rabbi Heschel said. I will sing, I will volunteer, I will stay ever vigilant because we are witnessing how fragile our freedoms really are.
If you disagree with me, if you share other political opinions, go ahead and unfollow this blog. Or don’t. Answer back to me with respect, and I will do the same. But this is a time for clarity of voice and vision, and I will be exercising both in the coming years. There are Shifras and Puahs out there to stand up and do what’s right.