Tension is certainly palpable in the air of our nation. We are still collectively shell shocked due to the insurrection that took place at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6th. Our democracy, and the values that we as Americans hold so dear, were under siege in front of our very eyes. I have recently been reading the book of Judges, and these last few weeks of the outgoing “leader” seem akin to Samson’s last moments; a blind, injured and violent flailing by a powerful force who aims to tear everything down as he falls. Confederate flags, “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE” (6 million wasn’t enough) tee shirts were proudly displayed in the halls of the Capitol. Lives lost so senselessly that day add insult to the injury that is the raging pandemic we call COVID-19. Those who study extremism fear that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.
What do we do?
I tend to turn to Torah, as I am constantly reminded that “what happened once upon a time happens all the time.” The parshah that we have just completed reading is “Vaeira,” wherein we are told of the first seven plagues that Egypt suffers. Before G-d ever sends the plagues to Egypt, we are introduced to a leader in Moses who is nothing if not ambivalent. While one of the many wonderful traits that Moses possesses is his humility, it is safe to say that he seems to be experiencing what we today might call “Imposter Syndrome.” According to psychologists, Imposter syndrome (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. To put it bluntly, someone with Imposter Syndrome feels like they are riding the wave of some kind of fluke success. In the case of Moses, he goes so far as to question why G-d would even choose someone like him to free the people of Israel from bondage. Moses famously tells G-d that he is slow of speech and of tongue. “Why would the people of Israel listen to me,” he asks. When Moses’ requests only anger the people of Israel, he is convinced that he is doing more harm than good. G-d is quick to tell Moses to speak directly to Pharaoh and convince the Egyptian sovereign to famously, “let my people go.” Moses again questions G-d in terms of whether or not he is the right person for this job. Why would G-d send a poor public speaker to speak for G-d? Moses even tells G-d that he has “uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12). Moses has difficulty speaking due to a stutter (if one follows the Rashi commentary), but his words and responsibility are of gargantuan importance.
There is someone in this story who often flies under the radar. Let us not forget Aaron. God has Aaron meet Moses on his way from Midian to Egypt in order to essentially serve as Moses’ mouthpiece. G-d will deliver the message to Moses, Moses to Aaron, and Aaron will be the orator.
A leader who must overcome a stutter to lead the people out of dark and difficult times. Does this sound at all familiar and relevant to our contemporary lives? While I am by no means suggesting that we are placing Moses in the oval office, our responsibility as good citizens will be as Aaron’s. We must deliver and reiterate the messages of healing, equity and decency that our new leader will offer. In a country which has been morally (not mortally) wounded by the past four years, we have a responsibility to meet our elected leader halfway between Midian and Egypt (or perhaps Wilmington and Washington) and support the kindness that we are counting on his administration to represent. Judaism is a religion of action, and we will need an abundance of gemilut hasadim (acts of loving-kindness) in the weeks, months, and years to come. If we do not take the necessary actions to restore a sense of shalom to our fractured nation, the prognosis will be dire. If we are not the messengers of good, who will be? Remember, when G-d created the world He said many times: “Vayar Elohim ki tov.” G-d saw that His Creation was good. We have been, at our core, created to be good.
As we see and hear symbols and chants of ignorance and hatred so unsightly and deafening, it can be difficult to remember that we are writing our own story. I like to think of the Torah as alive, and all of us as part of its living and breathing dialogue. What will we write next? Perhaps we should begin with the basics. Let us be as Aaron, and amplify the voice of the one who stutters decency and kindness back into the collective conscience of our nation. We must communicate the message with our actions and intentions. Only then will we allow G-d to find His way through the noise of cruelty and deception in order to deliver His pure love clearly into our world.
As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., may we all heed his words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”