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Parashat Vaera

January 12, 2024
3 Shevat 5784
Exodus 6:2 - 9:35

Dear Friends,

As we welcome the new month of Shevat I am reminded by Rabbi Jill Hammer that Shevat is a month of renewed growth and vigor. It is a time of renewal. In just 15 days we will be celebrating the birthday of the trees, Tu B’Shevat. The midrash teaches that toward the end of the people’s journey across the wilderness, Moses began teaching Devarim (Deuteronomy) at this time, the birthday of the trees. It is a wonderful image -- Moses teaching and the trees shaking off their slumber, newly awake. We are reminded that we are like the trees in the field.

The image of reawakening is an important one. In this hemisphere, we are not unlike the bears, wishing to hibernate and be fairly inactive as we wait for the spring thaw. But that is a luxury we cannot afford.

This week’s Torah portion Parshat Va’era, “and I appeared” (Exodus 6:2-9:35), resonates in so many ways, given both the times in which we are living, and that we will be celebrating the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in the days ahead.

The phrase “and I appeared“ resonates as a wakeup call, much like the trees in the midrash are said to waken. In this very familiar Torah portion, we find ourselves reading about the first seven plagues and the dynamic between Pharaoh and Moses as it begins to build. We have before us two different leadership styles: one acting alone without accepting the advice of others and another where the leader not only did not want the job, but recognized that if he was going to take on the task, he could not do it alone. Moses had his brother Aaron at hisside in contrast to  Pharoah alone.

So often when we think of leaders, we think of solitary figures, forgetting that there were others working with them. In some cases, those other people were sycophants flattering the leader to achieve their own goals; effective leaders have a team. I was reminded of that while watching the film Rustin. Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 march on Washington with a team of young people. I was also reminded of that when Dr. Mehnaz Afridi received an award named after Clarence Jones, who helped Dr. King write the "I Have A Dream" speech.

Like the trees blowing and dancing in the grove, we are not alone. In truth, we can achieve so much more when we work together, find common ground, and most importantly, stay awake so that we have the capacity and the willingness to change over time.

In looking at both Moses and Dr. King, what they accomplished did not happen overnight, nor did they do it alone. The same is true for us. We will in all likelihood not achieve the heights of their lives, but they do serve as examples that we are not alone on the journey and it is so much better when we join with others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784