Many of you know I study Torah with an incredible group of people each Tuesday. I take notes. I take a lot of notes. Everybody in the class knows that. Anita. Takes. Notes. Sometimes the weekly parasha speaks to me directly, and sometimes I go back and look at my notes. That’s what happened with this week’s parasha, Shemot, the beginning of the book of Exodus.
Often I’ve written about the women, sometimes I’ve written about the Pharoah’s approach to the group of Israelites, growing in population. This week, as I was turning the pages of my notebook, I saw in big letters, circled (so I know it was important!) the following: (This) story is about flaunting authority.
This story is about flaunting authority. It’s a revolutionary book, a temple for revolution.
Miriam stood up to her parents, according to the Midrash. The Midrash says Miriam convinced her parents that, having separated rather than lose an infant boy, they were also condemning the people by withholding baby girls, too. They reconciled, and Moses was conceived. Shifra and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives (some say Puah was Miriam herself), staged a revolution against Pharaoh’s decrees by saving the baby Moses. They were supposed to kill him. Yocheved, Aaron, Miriam, and Moses’ mother, flaunted authority by keeping her baby for three months, until she couldn’t make sure he stayed quiet. Then she (and Miriam?) concocted a plan to build a water-proof basket and send Moses down the river to whoever would find him. Much like the mothers thousands of years later, who send their children across the water to a new land, knowing they’d never see them again, and like desperate women who send their children north, Yocheved thought this was a better solution than keeping him at home.
Pharaoh had a daughter, Batya. She staged a revolution against her father by taking that Hebrew baby in, knowing her father had decreed they should all die, knowing her father was threatened by the presence of this people in his land.
Of course, it’s not just the women who staged a revolution. The Exodus itself was flaunting Pharaoh’s authority, and led by Moses, they led Pharaoh and his supporters to their deaths in the Red Sea.
So here we are. I have made no secret of my feelings about the current administration. Here we are, this Shabbat, turning the corner from 2018 to 2019, facing a third year of this Pharaoh-like buffoon, whose fear and distrust of “others” who “fill the land” leads to decrees and bans in the name of protecting that land. Each of us must continue to stage revolutions, some small and personal, some larger, but revolt nonetheless. I’m not talking about overthrowing the government. Rather, it’s the continued effort to thwart and flaunt the authority of those whose power and control are more dear to them than the well-being of the people they rule over. The story of Moses and Miriam, Aaron, Yocheved and Amram echoes through history so that we continue to recognize the hard of heart, those who distort reality to serve as a way to maintain that power and control. It was life-threatening then, and it is now.
Wishing us all a 2019 of flaunting authority, calling upon the names of Shifra and Puah and the rest to give us commitment, clarity of vision, and intensity of purpose. Rest up on Shabbat, folks…we’re gonna need our strength this year.