Morey Schwartz
The Third Story

Calling a Plague, a Plague

Congresswoman Liz Cheney has named it – what happened in the US Capital one week ago today was an act of betrayal by the President of the United States.

Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third-highest-ranking Republican leader in the House, has named it – what happened in the US Capital one week ago today was an act of betrayal by the President of the United States

The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh pits our redeemer, a former member of the elite ruling class of Egypt, against the mega-powerful Pharaoh who has built an empire on the backs of his Israelite slaves. A thriving economy, the envy of all of civilization, the mighty Egyptian nation is about to face one of its greatest challenges: they will need to confront the possibility that their human-God, the Pharaoh, in all his glory, is actually not a god – he is in fact no more than a man whose power and position has led him to lose sight of his greater purpose.

When the challengers – Moses and his brother Aaron arrive to make their plea and demand that the Israelite slaves be set free – Pharaoh will hear nothing of it.  And as they proceed to make their case, he surrounds himself with his hartumim – not his magicians, as usually translated, but rather, the elite, learned religious scholars or sages, the lector-priests of Egypt.  They are loyal to their divine leader and will stand up for him, protect his reputation and support him against those who come forward and challenge his positions and decisions.

And so it is.  Beginning with the staff-turned-snake, the lector-priests protect Pharaoh’s reputation by mimicking the stunt.  And then, with the first two plagues – blood and frogs – they do similarly. And although great waste and destruction is beginning to take its toll on Egypt’s economy and well-being, the hartumim stand their ground in support of their divine leader.

And then comes the plague of lice. And this time, though they try, they cannot do as they have done in the past.  They cannot mimic the actions of their adversaries and produce lice from dust.  Looking about, they see that all of Egypt – from people to cattle – are infested, degraded and despondent.  And it is at that salient moment that they stand up and announce that they can no longer be responsible for creating a façade of business-as-usual.  They can no longer withhold from the Egyptian people the truth as they see it, and they announce to the Pharaoh – “This is the finger of God.” (Exodus 8:15) In other words, “We are done standing beside you, done covering for you, done pretending everything is all right.  It is not all right, and we need to say it loud and clearly.”

Pharaoh, we are told, ignores them.  And yet, as I see it, this is the beginning of the end.  Without the support of his political-religious allies, he will not in the long run be able to lead the Egyptian nation through this challenge to his leadership. Like the Egyptian midwives who stood up to the Pharaoh in his decree to put to death the newborn male Israelites on the birthstool, these hartumim ceased with their illusions and called a plague, a plague.

When Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney announced yesterday that she would vote for impeachment of the president of the United States, she took a brave stand, and she called a plague, a plague.

On January 6, 2021 a violent mob attacked the United States Capitol to obstruct the process of our democracy and stop the counting of presidential electoral votes. This insurrection caused injury, death and destruction in the most sacred space in our Republic. Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President.

Whether you are a liberal who voted for a different kind of government, or a conservative who voted to maintain the status quo – Liz Cheney reminds us that there is a third story here – one that every American and every proponent of democracy must be able to tell.  It is the story of civility and respect for the system and the symbols that represent it. When a leader ceases to demonstrate that the safety and security of all of its citizens is their highest priority, and that the laws of the lands and the values they represent are no longer inviolable, then they can no longer be privileged to occupy the position of leader.

The scenes of January 6 will forever be etched onto our collective memories.  This is not about whom we voted for – this is about why we vote at all, why we participate in the democratic process.  Representative Cheney is a staunch conservative, yet today she has refused to allow her party allegiances to stand in the way of speaking out, of condemning an act of betrayal, of calling a plague, a plague.

About the Author
As International Director. Rabbi Dr. Morey Schwartz, advances the work of the Florence Melton School as he seeks out and assesses new opportunities to enhance Melton’s global impact through communal, national and international partnerships and other strategic relationships. He is also an author, teacher and registered mohel, living in Israel since 2000.
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