- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 17, 2020
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, our weekly reflection as we make our way toward Shabbat. If you’d prefer to listen as a podcast, it’s available HERE.
Pharaoh is no mensch.
It turns out that mensch does not mean man. It means human being. I’m grateful to our member, Michael Malamat, who graciously wrote me after I made this common mistake in a previous Shabbat Awakenings. He said:
…In transliteration from Yiddish, mensch sounds a lot like “man” in English. And, etymologically, the terms are related. But in Yiddish, as in German, Mensch (German)/mench (Yiddish) means “a human being.” It is intentionally inclusive. The Yiddish/German for “man” is Mann (German)/man (Yiddish)…
To be a human being necessitates more than just existing. The Medieval Jewish philosophers believed that human beings have the capacity to actively think, reason, and ponder our actions and decisions. They saw that human beings possess an intellect that provides an ability to elevate ourselves above animals (it turns out animals are much smarter than they imagined.) Human beings can reason and reach thoughtful conclusions and ideas.
What about Pharaoh? When Exodus opens up this week with the important statement of fact that a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:8) What was it that he did not know?
It was more than being acquainted or even being in relationship, although that may have helped immeasurably. It meant that Pharaoh did not seek knowledge. It may appear that he could reason. After all, he quickly came to the assumption that the Israelites had become so numerous that in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground. (1:10) And we all know what happens when someone “assumes.” He made his decisions on fear. Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. (1:9) He worked from a perspective of bias and preconceived notions. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase…(1:10)
He functioned more on a level of animal instinct rather than any rational, human being capability. The lives of the Israelites were at his mercy and he had none.
In Genesis, at the very beginning of creation, human beings are endowed with the idea of tzelem Elohim, fashioned in the image of God. Maimonides, one of the premier Jewish philosophers in medieval times, connected the idea of the divinity within each of us, tzelem Elohim with our intellect. That active ability to think connects with the sacred and stabilizes us with a balanced personality. Without it, there is no regulation of instinctual behavior. Imbalance and thoughtlessness rule. Who is strong? The Mishnah asks and answers: the one who controls his passions. (Pirkei Avot 4:1)
Pharoah’s orders of inhumanity reflected his own inability to elevate the sacred within himself. Instead, he may have assumed he could rely on his own warped notion of how to lead his nation. History is shaped by human decisions. The leader who has power to draw conclusions without the ability to control his passions has the potential for great and lasting destruction.
We join together tonight for Shabbat Tzedek and again on Saturday to consider what it means to know and to bring mercy and justice into our own consciousness in order to elevate our own humanity. Our ancient prophets and leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King summoned us to seek the sacred in each person and to create a world where balance and thoughtfulness rule. We are all part of shaping history in this way.
Tonight is Shabbat Tzedek, a wonderful night of seeking justice together. Services begin at 6:00 p.m. Live stream HERE.
Shabbat program on Saturday will begin with Torah Study at 9:00 a.m. led by Yavilah McCoy and will continue with a day of Community Training in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
TGIS will be held at 10:00 a.m.
Congrats to Samantha Nudelman who become Bat Mitzvah tomorrow. Services begin at 10:15 in the Atrium
We are going to church on Sunday hosted by Bethel AME Church at 40 Walk Hill Street in Boston.
I look forward to learning of your reactions and reflections HERE.