We Are Better Than This

Israelites leaving Egypt

I am leading all 4 yom tov services at Temple Beth Am and this and a few of my next blogs will be sermons that I wrote for Passover. If you would like to stream Saturday’s service or Sunday including yizkor you can do so by clicking https://www.beth-am.org/live-stream Please remember the camera adds 10 pounds and Pesach matzo the rest.

We Are Better Than This.

John Scully, former President of Pepsi Co, and later CEO of Apple once said, “Timing in life is everything”. Indeed, timing is what I want to begin today’s sermon with.

What time of day or night did the Children of Israel depart from Egypt?

As we saw in the Torah reading there were two options.

After midnight, the plague of the first born began, and the devastation was awful. The Torah says,

” and pharaoh arose in the night with all his courtiers and all the Egyptians because there was a loud cry in Egypt for there was no house where there was not someone dead. He summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! Go worship the Lord as you said, and begone.”’

Clearly Pharaoh wants them gone and gone immediately at night.

You might have thought the Jews then said to each other,

“We are out of here. It has only been 430 years that we have been here let’s go! Remember, Pharoah has managed to change his mind and renege on his word, how do we know he will not do it again? Immediately let us leave and be done with him.”

Did the Jews leave?

No. Because a bigger force than Pharoah had His own idea.

The Jews were told to take a bunch of hyssop dip it in the blood and apply some of the blood onto the doorposts and then the Torah says specifically,

” None of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.”

Clearly in God’s plan no one is leaving at night.

Later the Torah says ,

“ That was for the Lord a night of vigil to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the Lord’s, one of vigil for all the children of Israel throughout the ages”.

Logic said take the freedom and run. God said stay in your home and leave in the light of the morning.

Why?

One answer is that the Exodus was to be a prototype for the future, the guidepost for how one attains freedom from oppression, not just for those oppressed people but for all people for all time.

If you think this is just theoretical or aspirational remember that black slaves in America looked to this very story and this very night, to pin their hopes on, for eventual freedom. The Siddur does not record a hymn called “Let my people go” it is a black spiritual song.

The leaving from Egypt was too important to merely run like a thief in the middle of the night. We left in daylight, with pride and confidence.

You remember when the Irsay family was moving the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis. They packed up everything and had the moving vans show up in the middle of the night and leave under darkness. They sneaked out not only for safety, but because they were ashamed for what they were doing.

In New York in the 60’s, when neighborhoods were changing, block busters would come into a white neighborhood and buy a home for a black person to move into. This would trigger a drop in property values and white flight. The first person who sold got full money for their home, and would leave in the darkness of night, less they be shamed or attacked when the new black family moved in.

If you must sneak out in the cover of night, you are doing something shady, something wrong, something shameful!

The Exodus was a great moment in history. An inspiration that we relived last night. The Exodus does not happen at night, but in the spotlight of morning.

I like that explanation a lot, but I like another one even more.

This explanation focuses on the horrors of the night.

There was death and grief in every Egyptian house. If the Jews had departed at that moment, they could not help but rejoice in the suffering of the Egyptians. Their slave masters who beat them, who deprived them of liberty and dignity were now in pain, how could they not gloat?

But in Judaism we are taught not to rejoice at the suffering of our enemies.

Last night you dipped your pinkie into the wine during the 10 plagues to lessen the amount of wine in your cup because wine is a source of joy and celebration and even though the Egyptians had to really suffer so we could win our freedom, we should not rejoice in that.

If we saw their suffering and their weakness, we would have felt empowered and perhaps tried for even more vengeance. We could easily have become vindictive and cruel.

Our personality is negativelyaffected and debased when we rejoice in the suffering of others.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has read my blog over the last 6 months. I hate Donald Trump. Governor Desantis is not far behind on that list.

I have had passing daydreams, involuntary fantasies, of the two of them on a plane together that comes crashing down.

This is not something I control, nor is it something I am proud of.

It is a fault in me that has affected my psyche such that while my conscious mind does not permit it, my subconscious mind, reflective of some tainting of my Neshama, leaks out in these thoughts. In hating and then reveling in the fall of Trump my yetzer hara, my evil impulse has grown inside of me.

Jews have been oppressed throughout all time, but it was the hope that our nature would not be cruel and vindictive like everyone else, so if we ever got power we would not behave like others.

Jews now have power. It is wielded in Israel.

We had always hoped, and for a long time believed, that we were different. We took the higher road. We understood what it was like to be the weak and oppressed and if we ever had power, we would be better.

Unfortunately, we as a people are not immune. Politics in Israel can be as ugly and mean as it is in many other countries.

Recently the Israeli Supreme court, after about 15 years of waiting for the Knesset to act on the issue of non Orthodox conversions being accepted for the purpose of permitting Jews by choice who were converted in Israel by Israeli Conservative or Reform Rabbis, to receive citizenship under the right of return, must now be given citizenship.

The Orthodox establishment condemned this ruling and spared no amount of condescending and insulting statements in the process, but then came the following from the Prime Minister.

He said in an interview, “It could lead to the country being overrun with fake Jewish converts from Africa.”

Let me unpack that for you. The only modern successful country that you can walk to from Africa is Israel.

With the political and economic unrest in Sudan migrants walked to Israel seeking asylum. Given the history of Jews trying to flee the holocaust, many were accepted in Israel, but when the numbers threatened to explode, Bibi built a fence to keep them out. 30,000 migrants reside in Israel with a special status that does not lead to citizenship.

Bibi’s statement was pure racism. He was using the supreme court ruling to appeal to the Orthodox base that he needed to win the election, by saying that the ruling would allow wholesale conversions of these black people who would go through these “fake conversions” and become citizens, and this would unleash all these …fill in the pejorative word………to integrate into our society and pollute it.

The tone and the use of such language to appeal to a minority but an important part of his base might sound familiar to you.

By the way, there is no evidence that any significant number of non-Jewish Africans living in Israel have sought to convert to Judaism or have attempted to gain citizenship through conversion. Not labor migrants. Not asylum seekers. Not tourists.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a Reform leader running for Israel’s parliament with the Labor Party, wrote on Facebook that “The Conservative and Reform movements in Israel convert only those who have residency”.

The lesson of leaving Egypt in the day so as not to revel in the suffering of our enemies and become like them, is more valid today than at any time since the destruction of the 2nd temple.

I hope the lesson of the daytime Exodus and the custom of spilling the wine will be learned by me and by all of us.

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Rabbi Paul Plotkin

Rabbi Paul Plotkin

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I am a retired Conservative Rabbi. I was a pulpit Rabbi for 40 years. I supervise a chain of kosher Delis called Ben's .