Vaera: Slavery Now


Vaera: Maror Salad

In Vaera, we read that Pharoah digs in his heels, hardens his heart and refuses to liberate the Israelite slaves, thus launching plagues against the Egyptians. “Even from such hardened sinners as Pharaoh and the Egyptians, God did not withhold the opportunity of mending their ways. Before a plague visited them Moses was charged to warn them of its coming, to-morrow, if they remained obdurate.” (Exodus Rabba)

So, why does Pharoah continue to enslave the Israelites?

Commentary in Etz Hayyim notes that the Israelites “must be freed in such a way that they, the Egyptians, and all the nations of the world will understand that it was God’s doing, not Pharaoh’s goodwill” (p. 351). The Israelites understanding of God’s role in their liberation is important “to establish the principle that it is unacceptable for one human being to reduce another human being to slavery, that freedom is the will of God and not the choice of a despot” (p. 351). This story’s universal message is important today.

Maror Salad ingredients

Maror Salad ingredients

Despite religious teachings and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, slavery  exists in our world. Right now, 30 million people worldwide, from domestic workers to sex workers to food supply laborers are enslaved, the largest number of people in history.  Twenty percent of these people are children. This is not just a problem “elsewhere” but here in the United States. Los Angeles, where I live, “is a top point of entry into this country for victims of slavery and trafficking.” I see it in my life as an Uprising Yoga teacher at a juvenile detention center in Los Angeles. Some of the incarcerated youth there are sex-trafficked.

Purple carrots. Culver City, CA Farmers Market

Purple carrots from the Culver City, CA Farmers Market

January is “Human Trafficking Month” (human trafficking is another way to describe modern day slavery).  Vaera is an opportunity to remember the Israelites enslavement and act on behalf of those who are enslaved today. Recently, rabbis joined with Pope Francis and other religious leaders at the Vatican to adopt “The Joint Declaration Against Modern Slavery.”  And, there are things that we can each do  to help:

1. Find out how your favorite brands rank regarding human rights and trafficking.

2. Look for Fair Trade labelled items, including kosher Fair Trade Judaica.  These products are guaranteed to be grown and made by adults working under good conditions who are paid fair wages.

Garden fresh parsley

Garden fresh parsley

3. Read stories about people who are or were enslaved in the 21st century.

4. Support organizations such as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking which up the first shelter in the nation for survivors and also offers health, legal and outreach services.

6. Recognize the signs of someone who is being trafficked and report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

7. Check out the great resources and fact sheets from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

R. Samuel bar Nahmain taught, “Why were the Egyptians compared to maror? To teach you, that just as maror is soft as it begins to grow and hard at the end, so were the Egyptians soft and mild at the beginning but tough and hard in the end” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 39a, found in the Sefer Ha-Aggadah, p.58). The bitter salad I created for this week’s recipe is a reminder of both the Israelites enslavement and the Pharoahs’ in our midst, enslaving fellow human beings in 2015.

Vaera: Maror Salad

Vaera: Maror Salad

Vaera: Maror Salad

1 cup chopped parsley
2 cups lettuce
2 cups kale
1 cup combined, turnip greens, fennel greens and Swiss chard (I used the greens from the root vegetables in this recent dish)
2 carrots, peeled into strips (I used purple carrots but any color is great)
1 tbsp Pepitas
1 tbsp roasted, hulled sunflower seeds
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
salt and pepper


1. Wash all ingredients. Chop greens, slice scallions and peel carrots into long, thin strips.
2. Place in bowl and add seeds and nuts. Combine olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and toss well.

8 thoughts on “Vaera: Slavery Now

  1. Sometimes the issue of human trafficking gets lost amongst other political issues. It was good of you to remind all of us that it is very much with us in this country and how to look for it. I like your recipes too anyhow you tied the food in with human trafficking in other times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The point that in our daily lives there are small simple but important things we have the God given opportunity do bring about right and justice is a point we too often do not see.These commentaries truly are insightful.


    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.