We Remain Slaves: A Free People Beholden to Righteousness
In February, The Guardian reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 57% in 2017. The Anti-Defamation League found the past year to be the highest increase in a single year since they began compiling data in 1979. Not only should we call out anti-Semitism, it is also our obligation to condemn any form of discrimination, no matter where it occurs or at whom it is directed.
Tales of people’s euphoric experiences, spiritual awakenings, and newfound connections to Judaism are prominent in our narratives of Israel. Yet, debates about who has claim to what and where, how much, and why are also the reality of life in the Middle East. From both sides of the border and each mile in between, the rich history and compelling customs of many cultures are accompanied by polarizing conflict. It is difficult to grapple with suffering that occurs in our own neighborhoods, but even harder in a land of so much piety.
In this season of spring which began with Pesach, we are instructed to repeat, “We were slaves in the land of Egypt,” not “Our ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt.” We are commanded to speak in the first person plural, as if we personally experienced bondage. I see this as our charge to root out all injustices as if they are our own.
In a Midrash about the parting of the sea, the angels rejoice until God reprimands them saying, “You cannot celebrate the death of anyone, for the Egyptians are also my children.” We, too, must remember that true serenity cannot exist in the midst of another’s strife.
When Batya found a baby, Moshe, in the Red Sea, she made a conscious decision to reject not only the law of the land but also her father’s orders. When we perceive statutes to be unethical, we should act in accordance with our values, even when that requires civil disobedience. Batya did not merely rescue Moshe, she cared for him, taking him back to Yoheved, his mother, to be nursed.
Unlike her father, Pharaoh, who hardened his heart, Batya opened hers. She saw the suffering of others, and made their concerns her own. Pharaoh's heart is described as hard long before the tenth plague killed every first-born Egyptian son. He became fearful of God but his inability to empathize remained. Pharaoh’s perception of the Israelites’ worth was not altered. We must work for justice without plagues, in order to change circumstances and erode apathy.
Taking on the burdens of others will not harden our hearts but enable coexistence. In the past year, thousands of Israelis have gathered to protest the deportation of African refugees. As people who have faced persecution for generations, we know places do have the power to offer us tranquility and refuge, if, like Batya, we recognize the needs of others as our own.
Instead of fighting over ownership of land, let us practice concern for all people.
Emanuelle Wirtschafter Sippy attends Henry Clay High School, where she participates in the speech and debate team. She is also on the leadership of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team and enjoys partnering with Unlearn Fear + Hate.