Friday, January 16, 2015

Everyone's Dreams - D'var Torah for Parashat Va-era - January 16, 2015

What kind of hopes do we hold from one week to the next?
Sometimes we just want to get through the next week by fulfilling all of our usual responsibilities, maintaining as much of a positive attitude as possible, navigating through the small and major challenges that may come our way, and retaining a glimmer of optimism that the coming days may bring some unexpected gift or a welcome opportunity for growth or a new source of satisfaction and even joy.  
   These thoughts and considerations may represent our dreams for the steps immediately ahead of us on our life’s journey. 
In the Torah reading for this week, Moses brought the Israelites notions that were well beyond their expectations and dreams.   
Their bondage in Egypt was the same, week after week.  
It was all about survival from one moment to the next, and not provoking the cruelty of a nearby Egyptian taskmaster. There was little hope for change.   
To those people who were engaged in hard labor, Moses brought a set of promises, dreams of freedom directly from God:

  •  I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians
  •   I will deliver you from their bondage.
  •  I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.
  •   I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God
  •   I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Eternal One.

Moses likely expected to see wonder and hope in the eyes of the people after they heard him speak, but the Torah recorded their response in the next verse:  “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.”
Whenever we begin the Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday observance weekend, “having a dream” is very much on my mind, based on the declarations from Dr. King’s speech at the March on Washington in 1963. 
To reexamine that dream, I went to see the film “Selma” last night on Dr. King’s actual birthday.   Much has been made about portrayals of President Lyndon Johnson and the involvement of the Jewish community not being quite accurate.  Even if that is the case, “Selma” effectively  zoomed in on the hard work it took to make known the seriousness of the plight of blacks who were denied the right to vote. People around the country accused participants in this movement of provoking the violence of law enforcement officials and others by their public demonstrations.  Dr. King and his partners knew that they couldn’t stop, for if they did, they would never reach their goal.  Instead, they focused “their eyes on the prize” and continued to keep the issue uppermost in the minds of as many Americans as possible.  After the attempts to march in Selma had met with resistance, one change, according to this film, turned the situation around.   THIS IS A SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT!!!   President Johnson told Governor George Wallace that he didn’t want to be seen as supporting a leader who refused to guarantee all of the citizens in his state the possibility of full communal participation.  It was then that Johnson began to openly support the Voting Rights Act, which, in recorded history, was drafted at the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington,  DC.  That exchange reminded me of a scene in the movie 42 which depicted a conversation between Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey and the uncooperative Philadelphia Phillies owner Herb Pennock who had said that his Phillies would refuse to play against the Dodgers if Jackie Robinson made the trip with his team (some of the language has been updated just a bit):
Branch Rickey: You think God likes baseball, Herb?
Herb Pennock: What is that supposed to mean?
Branch Rickey: It means someday you're gonna meet God, and when God inquires as to why you didn't take the field against Robinson in Philadelphia, and you answer that it's because he was Black, it may not be a sufficient reply!
   42 and Selma tell a similar story of a movement that began with the courage of one person or a group of people to bring about change that made society more welcoming and inclusive and tried to truly promote “liberty and justice for all.”
So what about our dreams and hopes?  
What aspirations do we share with people of all races, ethnicities, faiths, nationalities and backgrounds?
Or do people even get to the level of aspirations when their basic needs aren’t met, often due to no fault of their own when they are working hard to provide for themselves and their families?
In the spirit of the 5 promises that Moses proclaimed to the Israelites, I would offer these updated promises that can apply to all of us as we move forward in our lives:
I will free you from the burdens that hold you back from developing your own potential for strength, wisdom, and generosity. 
I will deliver you from people and circumstances that prevent you from realizing at least some of your cherished dreams.
 I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and a helping hand through the support and love that will come to you both from caring strangers and from the most treasured people around you.  
I will take you and link you to other people with whom you can join hands, hearts and minds to work for freedom, justice, equality, and understanding for all.
I will bring you to a land, a place, without hatred, violence and prejudice, a place where all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees and none shall make them afraid.  I, the Eternal One.
May we make these dreams, these promises real for ourselves and for our fellow human beings through dedication and commitment to heal and help every soul and the entire world. 

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