Rabbi Jean: “The Torah Scroll, which we’ll carry later during the March, has written in it, in Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses. We read it according to an ancient schedule, beginning in the fall with Genesis and reading a few chapters each week, all around the year until next fall when we’ll complete Deuteronomy and begin again immediately with Genesis. This week, the Torah portion we’re reading just happens to be the first chapters of the Book of Exodus, the beginning of the story of the liberation from slavery in Egypt.”
Chapter 3 of Exodus tells the story of Moses meeting God at the Burning Bush. God tells Moses, “I see the suffering of my people in Egypt and have heard the cry against their oppressors.” God continues, “I am sending you to Pharaoh, and you shall take my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses says to God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh? How could I take the Israelites out of Egypt?”
We have this thing called Midrash, an ancient literary genre. It’s for filling in the gaps in the stories, the missing bits. “How can Bible have missing bits?” you ask. Well, for instance, did you ever wonder what Moses was DOING up on the mountain all those forty days and forty nights? We have a midrash about that – more than one! Or perhaps: What was Moses thinking when talking to God at the Burning Bush. Why did he say the things he said?
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word for “nerve” as in, “You’ve got a lot of nerve!”
In Genesis 46:3-3, when Jacob was heading down to Egypt to see his long-lost son Joseph, and to find food because of the famine in the Land, God comes to him in a vision. God says, “Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt; I myself will bring you out again.” Therefore, Moses figures it’s God’s job to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, not his!
Even getting a couple of hundred people out would be difficult, let alone 600,000. Plus, Pharaoh will say that they’ve been enslaved there for hundreds of years and no one has complained yet. (Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai)
Back in Exodus chapter 2, we heard the story of how Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, how he took matters into his own hands and killed the Egyptian, how Pharaoh found out and ordered the death of Moses, and how Moses then ran away to a country called Midian. He marries into a local family and becomes a shepherd. He was out with the sheep the day he came upon the Burning Bush.
“God said, ‘But I will be with you, and this is the sign that I am the one who is sending you: When you take the people out of Egypt you will serve God on this mountain.”
Moses said to God, “Well, when I get to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors sent me to you,” and they say to me, ‘Yeah? Well what’s God’s name?’ – What shall I tell them?”
God told Moses to tell Israel, “I have been with them in this enslavement and this redemption.” God also told Moses that there would be future enslavements and redemptions when God would be present as well. They agree this is too much for the people to hear about in their present difficult situation (as discussed in the Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 9b, and in Midrash Rabbah).
“Moses, you talk too much! I have any number of fiery and terrifying messengers I could send, but I have
decided for reasons of my own, to send you! You deserve to be drowned!! Good thing for you I am so loving
(freely paraphrased from Mekhilta de Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai)
Rabbi Jean: “One day I get a phone call asking me to preach on Martin Luther King Day and I think: Who am I to do that? What if they won’t listen to me? I’m not anywhere near a good enough speaker! It’s good to realize the limits of one’s own capabilities, but sometimes you just gotta do it."
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
…last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises...the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws. I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.