In Mishpatim, twice God tells the Israelites not to oppress a stranger because they were strangers in the Egypt. (22:20 and 23:9). This is central to Jewish identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “To be a Jew is to be a stranger.” Rabbi Shai Held writes that, “since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or mistreat the stranger.”
Indeed, the Israelites experience as strangers in Egypt and throughout the diaspora provides the imperative that we not only support the strangers in our midst but stand in solidarity. Rabbi Held continues, “Empathy must animate and intensify your commitment to the dignity and well being of the weak and vulnerable. And God holds you accountable to this obligation” Continue reading
Shmot: stuffed grape leaves with pomegranates
The beginning of Shmot includes a listing of Jacob’s sons and a description that the “Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.” Pharaoh, frustrated by the Israelites fertility commanded to the midwives that newborn boys be killed. But, “the midwives [Puah and Shifrah], fearing God, did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live.”
A midrash says, “Not only did they not do what Pharaoh told them, they even dared to do deeds of kindness for the children they saved. In behalf of poor mothers, the midwives would go to the houses of rich others and collect water and food, which they gave to the poor mothers and thus kept their children alive” (Sefer Ha-aggadah, p. 60).
Like many stories in the Book of Exodus (Shmot), the story of the midwives is one that exemplifies our responsibility to do justice in the face of oppression and protect disadvantaged people in our communities, nation and world. Continue reading