It seems a little bit apropos that the Parsha HaShavuah for President Joe Biden’s inauguration is Parshas Bo, the start of the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Obviously, one could easily interpret the timing in more than a few ways: either claiming that Biden is the new Pharaoh or that he’s bravely leading American Jews out of some sort of four-year rule by a Pharaoh-like leader. There’s likely a great deal of opinions each way and each side would likely get involved on #jewishtwitter in order to debate angrily our opinions.
As an American Jew, I have watched with horror and disbelief the political discourse over the last few years and how it has created divisions within our own Jewish community that once saw itself as being very unified.
Yes, I am one of the approximately 77% of American Jews who disliked Trump and felt he was an existential threat to both the United States and the World as a whole.
One could accuse me of being involved in some of those heated “discussions” on more than one occasion and failing to live to the standards expected of me – and they’d be horribly right.
While it would be easy to blame one party, or one leader for all the hatred and anger, it seems to me that it only amplified problems that already have existed within our community.
Five years ago, I assumed incorrectly that most of the Orthodox Jewish community would follow me and a few others against Trump. Instead, much of my community embraced the obviously flawed leader to a degree that almost seemed religious in nature — and in some cases ostracized me because of my politics. There are more than a few shuls that I will not, for fear of being verbally berated if someone recognizes me from social media.
Now, Trump is gone — and we are faced with either a much needed reconciling within the Jewish community or maybe just a sad reckoning. Can we find that unity that is desperately needed in order to heal the rifts that the last four years have created? Not only within the Orthodox community but now the Jewish community as a whole that no longer sees itself unified in one belief and cause.
Chaya Lester wishes more from us, and hopes we can find ways to heal. She sincerely hopes that we can stop the thinking that has created a Chillul Hashem, and destroyed the message of the Torah. While I pray that she is right, and we can overcome the “loss of truth” that she speaks so eloquently about, there are days where the darkness seems to be too strong, and the hatred and divisions too much.
But then, I started learning the Parsha some more. Trying desperately to be inspired by the ancient words that sometimes seem so distant.
At the time of Yetzias Mitrayim, Klal Yisroel was undergoing the most tumultuous time ever: homeless, poor, and unable to even have time to let their bread rise. I remember that in every event that has happened in history to the Jewish people, HaKodesh Baruch Hu directed the events in a way that would lead us to teshuvah or repentance. Throughout Nevi’im, the Prophets, we see this message over and over again: Jewish Leaders make bad decisions, ignore the Torah and are punished for what is often connected with idolatry. All of Klal Yisroel suffered because of the poor decisions of these leaders – not just those directly involved.
It was to remind us that we are ALL in this together.
As things get more and more crazy, as the politics around us become more and more erratic and even the United States seems like it might be torn apart, I remember the words of Devarim, אני אני הוא, “I am He” as if Hashem is calling us to remind us where we should be focused: on the values of Torah that bring us together.
Without them, we are just wandering in another desert of our own making.
“When a Torah scroll is sewn together, it becomes holy, and it is forbidden to erase even a single letter in it. But when it is still in several separate parts, it is permissible to make an erasure in it. Those letters each represent souls of the Jewish people: when united, none may be blotted out.” -R. Bunam of Przysucha