Last week in Shemot, after Moses had run away from Egypt after killing a man, he was wandering in the wilderness with his flock and “he looked and he saw a bush all aflame. Moses said, ‘I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight’” (Ex 3:23) It was, of course, God, about to speak to Moses and change the course of history.
In this week’s parasha, Va’era, God “spoke to Moses and said to him, I am Adonai. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name Y’HVH” (Ex 6:2-3)
Among the lofty words for God in these two passages are other really important words: Look. See. Appear. Look. These are sight words. Change comes from seeing what’s right. Change comes from seeing what’s wrong. I saw both this week.
Friday was the Inauguration, and I have to say I am such a news-junkie I had to listen to it on the radio, at work. I’ve always taken comfort from the “peaceful transition of power”, and it was there, of course. But this next stage of our country’s existence is coming from a dark place, and I can’t help but feel scared and wary and on guard. And then there was Friday night, when instead of a typical Kabbalat Shabbat, I gathered with others to sing and raise funds for Planned Parenthood and ACLU. And then there was Shabbat, a glorious blue-sky-sunshine-Shabbat on the lake, standing with so many, many others; a quarter of a million people, all together. We didn’t march, in fact, because there were just too many people to go anywhere, so the organizers called it off. And yet we marched anyway, walking up and down the streets of Chicago, carrying signs and wonders.
I looked. I saw. I didn’t need to turn aside to look at the marvelous sight, it was all around me. I was surrounded, encompassed, held. I couldn’t see the end of the sea of people. We sang. We called out. We smiled. We shared. And it couldn’t…won’t end there. There is work to be done, steps to take toward a time when we won’t have to keep standing up with signs and working for each other.
When Moses saw the burning bush, he was standing on holy ground. He was about to begin changing the destiny of a people who were oppressed, vulnerable, needing hope. But first he had to look. First he had to see. He didn’t do it alone, but it started with seeing what was right, what was wrong, and seeing a pathway to fixing it.
Va’era. Sight. Vision. Seeing. Appearing. We saw ourselves among hundreds of thousands, millions across the world, ready to take the steps to freedom and justice. Those are lofty words for a gathering, but hundreds of thousands walked out of slavery. Hundreds of thousands stood by the water and took a step. I don’t know if the Israelites could see themselves as free. On Shabbat, however, we saw ourselves as strong, aware we were standing on holy ground, and focused our eyes on the future. Here we go.