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Healing America

01/08/2021 09:51:47 AM

Jan8

Rabbi Samuel Gordon

Rabbi Sam Gordon Headshot

Charles Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

I had hoped on this Shabbat to comment on the results of Tuesday night’s Georgia election and its meaning in history. It was the best of times. An African American minister, Raphael Warnock, was elected to the US Senate. He is pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the home pulpit of Martin Luther King, Jr and the home congregation of the late Congressman, John Lewis. We can celebrate that a Black senator was elected from the South, and he is the first to be elected from Georgia. He also survived unwarranted accusations of being anti-Semitic fomented by those who would try to exploit divisions between the Jewish and African American communities.

Jon Ossoff shared that victory. He is a Jewish descendant of immigrants and will now be representing Georgia as well. Looking at Georgia through the lens of Jewish history, the first European baby born in the Colony of Georgia was Jewish. But Georgia was forever scarred by the lynching of Leo Frank in 1915, and the bombing of The Temple of Atlanta in 1958 in response to the courageous social justice leadership of Rabbi Jacob Rothschild. I hope Ossoff’s victory will redeem some of that history. So Tuesday night’s election results might have been the Best of Times.

But then came Wednesday. The Worst of Times. I had always noted with a level of patriotic pride that the Capitol building was open to all the citizens of this country to enter and meet with their representatives. Unlike the White House or Supreme Court, and except for the usual security check at the entrances, one could move about freely in the halls of the Capitol and its various office buildings. One could visit Representatives and Senators in their offices or encounter them informally in the hallways or cafeterias. It was always a thrill to take our high school students to their lobbying appointments as part of the Reform movement’s L’taken program. I worry that such freedom of movement is now probably over.

We were shocked to witness the desecration of our national sacred space. The Confederate flag was carried into the Capitol rotunda and Statuary Hall. But these acts cannot be ascribed only to the right-wing extremists, White supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Proud Boys. It was the President and his enablers who incited these outrageous acts of sedition and domestic terror. They knew better. There was no rigged election. There was no fraud. There were no stolen votes. Every legitimate authority had said so. Perhaps the President really had come to believe his own lies and delusions, but that is no excuse for the others who had also sworn their allegiance to the Constitution.

Far too many people were manipulated and exploited by those who stoked the fires of their anger and alienation, telling them that their rights and their nation had been stolen from them. These cynical demagogues churned up all their resentments of government, supposed elites, the unfairness of society, and, with winks and nods, celebrated their violence and rage. Did they not imagine that there would be consequences? Was this merely a political game meant to win votes or media viewership? They demonized authority, and the crowd responded.

How do we understand the implications of this past Wednesday? Let us turn to this week’s Torah portion for insight and wisdom. Last week we concluded reading the First Book of Moses, Genesis. This week we begin the Book of Exodus—Shemot. It opens with a lesson in how a leader could foment hatred among the masses by means of an artificially constructed paranoia. We read:

A new king arose in Egypt who did no know Joseph. And he said to his people: “Look the Israelite people are too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise up from the ground.”

Pharaoh ruthlessly built fear and demonization of the Israelites in a classic attempt to create hatred of the “Other.” He told his people the Big Lie, and they believed him. Pharaoh, like so many autocrats and tyrants after him, chose to lie to his people, and they responded by accepting the enslavement of others and eventually his genocidal plan to kill all the male newborns.

Thankfully, there was resistance. The midwives, Shifra and Puah, refused to kill the baby boys. They may represent the first example of civil disobedience. Eventually, Pharaoh himself was destroyed, and his army perished in the sea.

Thus the tyranny of Pharaoh came to an end. On January 20th, and perhaps before, Donald Trump will no longer be president. We can only hope that Wednesday was enough of a wake-up call and a shock to the system that Trumpism will have lost its credibility and support. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents must now all come together to reaffirm the values of this great nation. The American democratic experiment must not be a partisan issue that divides us but rather an ideal that unites us. Let us pray for a complete and rapid healing of the body and soul of these United States.

Rabbi Samuel Gordon

Congregation Sukkat Shalom

Thu, February 25 2021 13 Adar 5781