Two weeks ago an angry mob scaled the walls of the Capitol Building. This week a peaceful transition of power took place at that very same building, reinforcing the bi-partisan, democratic process that has sustained our country for generations. The 2021 inauguration ceremony was like none we’ve ever seen in United States history for many reasons—25,000 National Guard units patrolling the Capitol grounds, 200,000 flags standing in as placeholders for members of the public who could not safely attend in person, a sea of masked government officials, their facial expressions shielded from view, and the swearing in of our nation’s first Black, first Southeast Asian, and first female Vice President.
President Biden spoke of healing our fractured nation, and urged his fellow Americans:
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.
This week on Shabbat we will read of a leader who did quite the opposite—who pitted Egyptians against Israelites, free citizens against slaves, and whose heart, as the text tells us, was hardened many times over.
When we read of the plagues inflicted back then, one can’t help but think of the plagues we are afflicted with now—the plague of racial injustice, the plague of economic inequality, the plague of climate change, and of course, the plague of Covid-19.
National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, in her poem The Hill We Climb, read these words at this week’s inaugural ceremony:
When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
We've braved the belly of the beast.
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace.
This past year has felt like a never-ending shade. And to many in our country, this shade has persisted not just for a year but for generations. We have waded through a sea of loss, we have ‘braved the belly of the beast.’
However, as much as Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, eventually, after great devastation to his people and his land, he acquiesced (albeit, temporarily). As a result, the Israelite people set out on a new course which would forever change their story and their identity as a people. Our Torah portion this week concludes with Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt--a new chapter has begun.
So too, this week, has a new chapter begun in the United States. President Biden continued:
…The American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us, on we the people, who seek a more perfect union. This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we've come so far, but we still have far to go.
Gorman concludes her poem:
When day comes, we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn balloons, as we free it
For there was always light.
If only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it
May we be inspired by these words of hope and healing; may our new leaders carry our nation into the future with vision, courage, dignity and compassion, and may we ‘open our souls’ and be brave enough to ‘be the light’ that carries us forward into this new chapter.
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, ve’al kol Yisrael, ve’al kol yoshvei tayvail.
May the one who makes peace on high, make peace upon us, upon all Israel, and upon all who dwell on earth.