Vayeshev: Swim hard against the tide

This week’s parasha has a lot in it. But my focus is elsewhere right now. I am at the URJ  Biennial. Six thousand of the most identified, enthusiastic, engaged Jews I’ve ever met. I’m here with Spertus Institute, representing the school and looking for new students. This is my third Biennial, and Shabbat at Biennial is incredibly profound and moving.

This morning was a highlight. I just heard the very honorable Senator from MA,  Elizabeth Warren speak for almost an hour about…well, who cares. She’s amazing, reading the phone book. But really, she talked about standing up for what’s right, and the importance of having your voice heard, even if you don’t win the fight. She talked about how her first fights in Congress were “lost”, but she met allies and learned from the losses and can come back stronger. Raising your voice is a muscle that gets only stronger with use, she said.  And she referenced Vayikra 19:33-34, how we are commanded to treat the vulnerable, the stranger in our midst as a native, and not oppress them, because we were strangers, oppressed in a foreign land, and we need to “love” our neighbors as we would ourselves.

As you may know, this is the most common commandment in the Torah; 36 times we are reminded to treat the stranger with compassion because we were strangers.

Joseph certainly wasn’t treated with compassion by his own brothers. They hated him and threw him in a pit to die alone. He was horribly mistreated. Maybe the memory of the hatred against him stayed with him as he rose to power. Those in power must always be able to hear the voices of those who need help.

Speaking out the truth to power has never been more important. It’s vital that we keep resisting, insisting, persisting. Senator Warren channels Torah when she exhorts us to do what she continues to do. Go with the tide when you can, she said, and swim hard against it when the tide is headed in the wrong direction.

Shabbat shalom from Boston.

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