Community Torah Corner, Jan. 13, 2023

Rabbi Randy Mark
Shomrei Torah/Wayne Conservative Congregation
Wayne, NJ
Parashat Shemot

Parashat Shemot begins a new book of the Torah and a new chapter in the development of the life our ancestors.  We go down to Egypt a family and while there, transform into a people.  It begins with a Pharoah that knew not Joseph.  When people don’t know their own history, it allows historic relationships to fall away.  I would argue that is what happened between the black and Jewish communities.  

Shortly, we will commemorate MLK Day.  A generation ago, Martin Luther King and Jewish leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and others marched together side by side in partnership and mutual support. Reverend King was a speaker at a Rabbinical Assembly convention shortly before he was assassinated.  The Jewish and Black communities had a shared history of oppression and so we stood together in seeking our place in American life.  And then arose leaders in the black community who knew not Heschel; and the history of our joint cooperation was replaced by a narrative of the Jewish people as oppressors of the black community.  Black Lives Matter saw us as their enemy rather than as partners for change.  That rift has not yet been overcome.  Black/Jewish dialogue has become more challenging but remains important. 

Our entire history is rooted in growth and change, transformation and evolution, and the significance of the journey.  Many of the experiences have been painful and difficult like the Egyptian slavery.  But our rabbis have taught that these unpleasant moments in history were ultimately for our benefit -  that God tests us. Test is probably the wrong word to use today, but more accurate would be to say that we are forged in the crucible of life to help us improve.  May this new year lead us to new heights as painlessly as possible.