Vaera: Slavery Now

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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.

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