Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Auto Emancipation

In the Torah this week we read of the Exodus from Egypt. After what seems like a relentless struggle between Moshe and the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh finally surrenders and lets the people go. The whole story though begs a powerful question.
Moshe knew all along that the desired end here was that the people of Israel be free . They had a destiny to receive the Torah and inherit the land of Israel. There was no way once they left Egypt that they were ever coming back. So why then does Moshe continue to ask the Pharaoh to let the people go for a three day holiday to worship Hashem as if indeed they will return. In truth the Pharaoh had every right to chase the people down when they headed to the sea... the three days Moshe had asked for had elapsed...and they clearly were not coming back...The Pharaoh felt duped and he went to get them...Why didn't Moshe say from the very beginning that it was the total liberation of the people that he wanted...Why the ruse?

I remember many years ago reading of the writings of the early Zionist thinkers. They were of different minds.Some, like Ahad Haam believed that we needed to wait to actually rebuild the land until such time as the powers that were then in the world would give us the rights to Israel. Those like A.D. Gordon felt otherwise. They argued that the Jews needed to come back to the land and reclaim it, even before being granted any rights to the establishment of a state by the sovereign nations of the time.They felt Jews needed to be the authors of their own liberation from the tyranny of the galut. And the granting of emancipation from any source from without would only compromise the development of the emerging new nation.

Just think of the story of the African-americans in the United Stated...They did not free themselves...they did not fight a struggle to be liberated from slavery. They were granted freedom...granted their rights by others in authority..It is no surprise then that actually becoming 'free' within themselves, developing the sense of self worth of the free man did not immediately occur. No document signed in Washington can give someone his/her sense of self worth. (On the contrary that it was given by others in a subtle way only continues to underscore that one needs someone else to make him/her worthy). No, they did not really become free until they fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King and the many other heroes of the period.
Only after the self-liberation of the 1960s could the promise of the freedom granted in the 1860s be realized.....A white President Lincoln's emancipation made a black President Obama legal...but only after the courage and sacrifice of the Blacks in America themselves could a Black President Obama actually be possible!

Is it any wonder then why Moshe only asked the Pharaoh to give the people a three day holiday.
Moshe knew it was not for the Pharaoh to liberate the people. They would have then been forever beholden to him and like the Blacks in America of the 1860's, free in name but enslaved in spirit. It was important, no, necessary that the people liberate themselves. That could only happen after they had some distance. They tasted freedom, albeit briefly, during the three days...With that experience behind them rather than return after the three days as promised to the slavery of Egypt they chose to not return. They chose to free themselves.They said 'We will no longer be slaves!'. They marched forward to the sea and to their fateful rendezvous with their oppressors and with their destiny.

The message I take from here is clear and its not only about my people or other peoples...its also about me...Any real 'becoming' that happens for me will not be the results of gifts bestowed from without. No one can 'make' me feel worthy or whole...No one can give me that which I lack for my self esteem...Others can help..and I need the help of others..But in the end I must emancipate myself. Like for our parents of the Exodus, like for the early halutzim and like for the Afro-americans 'becoming' is a process and it is both uneven and challenging...It is also a most sacred charge...and the reason I was put here on this earth...

Shabbat Shalom

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