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Rabbi's Erev Shabbat Message

06/11/2021 11:11:15 AM


Shabbat Hukkat: We Were Slaves In Egypt

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים
In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as coming out of Egypt  - BT Pesakhim 10.5 

Shalom Shir Tikvah Learning Community,


It is, suddenly, the fortieth year of wandering; after Korakh’s rebellion, of which we read last week, nothing further is recorded in the Torah for thirty-eight years. 


A generation has passed and a new generation is rising. What vistas are possible, once the older generation is gone? 


The Torah we read on Shabbat Hukkat encourages us to look ahead, and to think ahead. Those of us who remember the past are, ironically, condemned to repeat it, as long as it defines our present anticipation and future planning.


This Shabbat occurs on the holiday of Juneteenth. The holiday of Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. as a lived experience (not only an Emancipation Proclamation), has this year been made a Federal holiday. 

It is taking a very long time, but slowly, the United States of America is being brought to face its past. There is very little grace in this confrontation, as forty-three states have seen their state legislatures consider more than 250 bills to suppress and restrict voting, and the 1619 Project has been vilified across the country by those who cannot bear to look at their own scars, much less those they been part of  inflicting upon others.


We Jews are not white. 


As Jews we know the heart of our Black  carry the obligation of caring for those who are oppressed, and not to engage in oppression, because we know what it is to be oppressed. We have been slaves in Egypt. We have been murdered by state armed forces. We have been Othered, a people without rights whose misery no one noted. Our historical trauma is not unlike Black historical trauma.


And some of us Jews are white. 


Those of us who can pass for white have done so, have become part of the dominant culture. We denied, or frankly simply were unaware of, the fact that many Jews are Black and Brown skinned humans. We assimilated for the safety of our families, and for our survival. And in so doing we have lured toward forgetting that we were slaves.


Parashat Hukkat is famous for the opacity of Jewish law. A hok, or hukkah (the word exists in both masculine and feminine forms) is by rabbinic definition a law that makes no rational sense. 


A generation that struggled with slavery and could not shake off its aftereffects is now gone. They died in the wilderness. Our tradition teaches us to mourn their loss but not to be haunted by it.


It may not be rational sense to make common cause with the oppressed, and thereby endanger oneself. Yet that is the choice a free person, aware of a heritage of slavery yet not constrained by its trauma, can make. It is the choice every Jew is obligated to face.

Happy Juneteenth! and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ariel

want more learning about parashat Hukkat? click here: 

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Sat, June 19 2021 9 Tammuz 5781