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Parashat Beshalach: In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Get Going!

November 6, 2020

Parashat Vayeira - Between Power and Powerlessness

Whether you spent the week refreshing your favorite news source on your phone, watching tv news around the clock, or catching the headlines at the end of each day - this was a week of waiting. Waiting and watching. And from the moments the polls closed, we were, essentially, powerless to impact of the counting of ballots throughout the country. The week after Election Day, all we could do - all we can do - is wait.This sense of powerlessness this week, the need for patience, is in direct contrast to how many among us have felt every day before November 3. So many of you made calls, sent voter registration postcards, attended rallies, spoke up, took action, and encouraged your friends and family to vote. You acted powerfully, and you spoke truth to power.This tension, this contrast between power and powerlessness, is a very human way of life. Here we are, poised between power and powerlessness. Here we are, waiting and watching, patiently persisting.In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, our patriarch Abraham also experiences both power and powerlessness. In a matter of a few verses, he has both the ability to act, and the need to wait, to be patient, to accept that some of the most consequential elements of his future are unknown.When God invites Abraham and Sarah into the covenant, it is an invitation into relationship. A mutual bond. God has made promises to God’s creations, to humans, before, but never on this level. The covenant is a two way street.God has an amazingly human moment of realizing this dynamic early in our parasha. About to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God wonders, - oh - hmmm - “should I let Abraham know what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:17). God realizes that the covenant involves two partners!So God does tell his partner, Abraham, and we know right away that God chose the right guy. Abraham responds from a place of power: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice?” (Gen 18:25). Abraham speaks truth to power, and in doing so, exercises his own power to make the world more just. We are the inheritors of that tradition. Every postcard you sent, call you made, text you sent, rally you attended - you exercised your power. When we voted on Tuesday or in the days prior - that was our power.And, now, this week - we waited, and we wait. In a world where we are used to instant gratification - this week, we waited, feeling powerless to change the speed or the outcome of the election. We waited and wondered - did we do enough? You may have wondered - Did I, personally, do everything in my power to achieve what I hoped for this week?Abraham experienced this powerlessness, too. This week’s Torah portion also contains the famous story of the Akedah, the binding and near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son, Isaac, which we read on Rosh Hashanah each year. Here, it is God who has all the power in the covenant. God tests Abraham, harshly, by asking for Abraham’s ultimate loyalty through the sacrifice of his beloved son. Abraham, bound by the covenant, is powerless to refuse. Walking up Mount Moriah, on their way to the sacrificial spot, Isaac asks Abraham, “What about the lamb for the sacrifice?” And Abraham replies, “God will provide for the lamb, my son.” (Gen 22:8).Abraham believes he is powerless to change the course of events unfolding before him. And yet, even though God has asked the unthinkable of him, put him in a place of absolute powerlessness, he still responds to his son, “God will provide.” (Gen 22:8).Even in moments where we feel at a complete loss of control or power to impact the events unfolding around us, we can muster the courage and strength to reply, “God will provide.”That’s where we sit today, this week, this Shabbat. In the divide, in that liminal, in-between space, between speaking truth to power and the patience that must accompany a state of relative powerlessness. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice?!” We declare. “God will provide,” we remind ourselves.And just because today we sit in a place of “God will provide,” of faith, of hope, of trust, of waiting, does not mean we cannot access our power. If not today, then certainly tomorrow, and the day after that. Even if you receive the outcome that you hope for in the coming days, there is still so much work to be done, to renew and reaffirm the covenant of our nation - what it means to be the United States of America, a democracy, a place of equality and justice. There are so many ways in which we can use our power to bring more justice to the world. May we use our power in the days, months, and years ahead for justice and good. May we find patience and peace as we remind ourselves - God will provide. May it be a Shabbat of healing, wholeness, and peace for our country, as we renew our efforts to build a nation and a world of love. Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch
Temple Anshe Amunim | Pittsfield, MA

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784