January 6, 2021
Fittingly, this week we begin reading the Book of Exodus in which we are taught that tyranny must not be allowed to prevail. Pharaoh’s grip on the Israelites will come to an end, and they will be liberated. The Israelites are not freed, however, to wander aimlessly or lawlessly. With their new-found freedom comes the responsibility to create a society in which all people must be treated justly and with dignity.
What we saw yesterday in Washington D.C. is a repudiation of both Jewish and democratic values. The Torah doesn’t speak of democracy, but it does insist that we set up a legal system and entrust leaders to ensure the welfare of our society. Both the American system of government and Jewish tradition encourage dissent and disagreement as a way to create a more just and peaceful society. What we witnessed at the Capitol, however, was a raw attempt to wreak havoc, to upend violently the peaceful transition of power, and to subvert election results that had withstood all legal challenges. It was an assault on our country.
And it was not unexpected. I am profoundly sad and angry, as I am sure many of you are, but not surprised. The president’s response to these events was to give succor to the rioters and to reiterate the entirely debunked lie that the election was stolen. Words have consequences. The Book of Proverbs teaches us: the power of life and death is in the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21 ) For too long, the words that have been uttered from the highest echelons of power in this country have stoked hatred, fear, and bigotry or, at their best, have been vague and weak instead of filled with moral clarity and compassion—the hallmark of good leadership. Proverbs also teaches us: one who sows injustice will reap calamity. (Proverbs 22:8) Our country is reaping the harvest of grievously self-serving leadership.
It’s a sad turn of events that the violence and mayhem in Washington came one day after a peaceful and legal exercise of democratic power in Georgia. When Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial election in 2018—a loss many have attributed to voter suppression efforts—her response was to dedicate herself to expanding the franchise and making voting more accessible and compelling to those who hadn’t exercised their right to vote. Her organization, Fair Fight Action, along with the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter-Georgia, All Voting is Local-Georgia, and other voting rights initiatives worked hard to register voters and increase turnout and are working to end voting restrictions on the formerly incarcerated. What an inspiration for our entire country that we might truly become a multi-racial and multi-ethnic democracy in which all adult citizens are voters.
I hope yesterday’s events will serve as the long-delayed wake-up call to those who have given safe haven to a tyrant and have not forcefully condemned and countered the dog whistles, innuendoes, and deceptions that have been central to his term of office. This is no time for neutrality. The soul of our country is at stake. We must vociferously take the side of dignity and righteousness.
What is happening in our country is not about partisan politics, but about a bald-faced and undemocratic power grab by one of the most privileged people in this country. This is not about policy disagreements but about the nature of our society. Do we want to be a country that strives for greater justice and compassion or one that plays to our baser instincts? This is the choice that is before us. The end of verse 22:8 in Proverbs goes on to teach that “the reign of terror will come to an end,” which is what happens to Pharaoh through God’s intervention.
Once the Israelites receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, however, God no longer works alone. We become partners with God in perfecting our world. We change and develop the law so that it might serve the good of the collective, respect the dignity of the individual, and curb the privileges and abuses of the powerful. In this way, we bring our society closer to divine values.
May we learn the lessons of Jewish history and teachings and stand up for what is right and compassionate. Our country needs our loving hands and hearts, and for us to speak out and work for justice.
Rabbi Andrea London
Rabbi Danielle Upbin
We the people, One nation under God, turn to You, our Protector, our Rock and Redeemer.
Guide us through the Exile of what this nation has become.
A nation we no longer recognize – a time of darkness, plague, death and distortion.
Salvage Truth, who has become a stifled mute, drowning offshore in the shadows of Lady Liberty’s torch.
God of our Ancestors, You once answered the agonized cry of an enslaved people,
writhing under the hardship of tortuous taskmasters.
You remembered them, performed miracles for them, and raised them up to be Your people.
God who pierced through history with a Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm, remember us.
Bless us with Your Grace and saving power.
Amidst the tumult of a teetering democracy, we cry out now.
From the horror that is a land of fear, dividing our country, we ask: Ad matai? How much suffering is enough?
This, too, is a prayer.
We, who had been standing on the precipice of a new beginning, a vaccine of hope,
ask that You see us through to a life of peace, healing and reconciliation for all.
Ha’Makom – God of this Place and of all Places,
Our America is also Holy Ground.
We have turned to see, but the fire is raging and consuming.
Deliver us on Eagle’s wings, the symbol of this great Nation.
Hineni. We are ready.
God above, protect our democracy and our ideals, shelter our institutions and our nation’s leaders.
Free us, save us, redeem us, deliver us, and bring us to safety. Amen.