Rabbi Idit Lev
The story of the Exodus is a miraculous story of redemption. The people, who did not fight at all to change their condition,were redeemed from slavery when God decided to act. God is represented by Moses, who is a leader, a prophet and a legislator. The life of Moses, who grew up as a free man, is understood to be part of his preparation for leadership. He did not grow up in slavery and later found a way to resist it. Rather he saw the enslavement from the other side and knew he was a part of those people, but he himself lived a different life in the palace of King Pharaoh.
Moses did not seek to be a leader, and when God appointed him as one he bargained with Him fiercely before agreeing to represent God and lead the people.
Moses’s mission to Egypt was twofold: he had to both persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave, and persuade the Israelites that God had the power to extract them from Egypt and bring them to a life of freedom. In Exodus 10:2, in the middle of the story about the plagues, it says: “and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what I have wrought upon Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them; that ye may know that I am the LORD.”
Moses manages to convince the Israelites to exit Egypt and to persuade Pharaoh to let them go. Moses, however, finds that he must constantly reiterate God’s messages and teach God’s laws to the Children of Israel. Over and over, he attempts to educate them and persuade them to follow those laws.
Passover is associated with freedom and the transformation of the Israelites from slavery to redemption in Exodus. During the month of Nissan, we at Rabbis for Human Rights think and speak about our moral duty to repair the wrongs of our society, the wrongs that we commit against all of the disempowered groups among us: people living in poverty, Palestinians, Bedouin, refugees and asylum seekers, the disabled, and women. We seek to learn from the Exodus the lesson of our duty as free people once enslaved, as well as our moral responsibility not to rule over another people, and to care for the orphan, the stranger, and the widow of our times.
When we make these analogies we do not always remember that when the Jewish people changed they did so with the help of a leader who called God forth. Moses’s direct connection with God, and the faith that guided him in his actions, were the basis for his leadership, and I have no doubt that this calling was evident in every step he took.
Now, as Passover approaches, we at Rabbis for Human Rights remember that today we must take on the role of Moses. As Rabbi Marshall Meyer said: “The role of the rabbi is the role of the prophet, to speak truth to power, to voice the conscience of society.” This role is essential in modern Israel and we perform it with humility, conviction, and passion in each and every one of our many projects. In the coming weeks, as we mark fifty years of occupation, we will continue to strive to fulfill the vision of Israel’s prophets as we demand an end to the vile injustices at one of Judaism’s most holiest, and most desecrated cities: Hebron. Over the years, Jewish settlers have sought to undermine the historic and cultural rights of Palestinians living in areas in Hebron under the control of Israel by changing the Arabic names of the streets and replacing street signs with signs in Hebrew and English only. This is done in areas where the majority of residents are Palestinians. Historic placards and mosaics on buildings, walls, and sites now appear without any Arabic, often with new names and in some cases, on privately owned Palestinian property without the owner’s consent. We at Rabbis for Human Rights, as Israelis, Jews, and people of conscience, cannot accept this injustice. We asked the army to take down the signs, but they refused — so together with Palestinian activists, we will do it ourselves. We don’t expect it to be easy — indeed the press and the extremist settler community have already caught wind of our plans — but nevertheless we will persist because human rights are for all humans.
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” -Exodus 22:21
Thank you and chag sameach!
Rabbi Idit Lev
Director of Rabbis for Human Rights socio-economic justice programs
Thank you to Rabbi Mauricio Balter for assistance in preparing this dvar Torah