Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
2017-01-24 10:23 pm (UTC)
So I'm a believer in short sermons anyway, and this one had to be extra brief because I needed to give D space to talk about his interpretation of his reading and what his bar mitzvah means to him. So I gave a very rough sketch of a commentary, something like this:
A new king arose who did not know...
Sometimes you get a new leader who doesn't know history, and they find themselves in a weak position, so they try to build support by attacking outsiders. Immigrants, ethnic minorities, people who don't fit in, anyone they can whip up xenophobic sentiment against. And it doesn't have to be a literal king – we're not used to monarchs having major political power, not like the Pharaoh who was an autocrat, an absolute ruler. It could be a new boss at work, or someone who doesn't have a formal position of power but is suddenly popular and influential within a social group, or an opinion former in the media. Or even a democratically elected leader – after all Torah says
you shall not follow a majority to do evil
These sorts of people, they start out by testing their power, they try to get their followers to do something completely unethical. So in the portion D's just read, Pharaoh orders these poor midwives to kill all the Hebrew babies if they're male. And the midwives, Shifra and Puah, amazingly, they have the courage to refuse a direct order from the all-powerful Pharaoh. He summons them to his court, can you imagine how terrifying it would have been for these fairly ordinary women, just low status health workers, to come before the throne of this dictator, surrounded by soldiers and magicians and nobles, and have to explain why they'd disobeyed his order? Shifra and Puah manage to come up with an excuse which is sort of flattering to a racist Pharaoh: these Hebrew women, they're so primitive, they don't wait for the midwife when they give birth, they just have babies all over the place like animals. Pharaoh could have had them killed on the spot, but for some reason he let them live.
And that act of courage is what opens the whole story of the Exodus. We need to be like the midwives and willing to disobey orders which we know to be morally wrong. I think it's really appropriate that D read this portion, because he's someone who always thinks for himself, he always does the ethical thing, he won't just go along with whatever's popular. He is here today celebrating his bar mitzvah, not because it's just what all his friends are doing, not because his parents pressured him into it, but because he's really thought about what it means to him to become a member of our Jewish community. We're very lucky to be able to welcome him as our newest full member, and I think his ethical commitment, his original thinking, will stand him and us in good stead, whatever the future may hold.
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