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Redeeming God's Wrath - A Poem

Arbel/Kinneret Cloud and LightIntroduction: Parshat Bo brings us the last three plagues leading up to the Exodus; locusts, darkness, and the death of the first-born son. It is this last plague with which I struggle so deeply year after year. How could my ancestors have envisioned a God who would kill so many people in order to make us free?

God in this text seems to be overcome with anger. Moses, Aaron and the Israelites have gone through this process where God continually hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to punish him more and more. Parshat Bo begins by saying, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these My signs among them.” But why does God demand a blood sacrifice from each of us, either in the form of lamb’s blood on the door or the soul of a child?

When God passes over the houses in Egypt, God takes vengeance, which is an idea that makes me very uncomfortable. This discomfort comes from the fact that in the mythical tradition God could have freed us at any time without taking so many lives, but that in fact God chose specifically to not do that in order to show off how strong and mighty God truly was. The traditional apologetic which comes from a midrash in the Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 10b) notes that Rabbi Yohanan says God rebukes the angels who are celebrating the crossing of the Sea of Reeds by telling them that, The work of My hands is drowning and you chant hymns? Honestly, I don’t know if I buy this reinterpretation of God at this moment. To me, God is angry and is acting in a rampage brought about by this anger. And so I continue to struggle with this text.

But, this year I was determined to bring some light into this portion which is filled with darkness, death and destruction. I envision that I am not the first to struggle with this image of God, or the situation which emerges in our text. Rather, I hear the story of an Israelite woman who too struggles with the loss of her neighbors and the wrath of her God. I hope that this poem will act as a holy spark, bringing light where there is darkness:


 

Where will we go?
Who amongst us knows?
It has been so long since we were able to
Go as we please.
Worship as we please.
Act as we please.

And yet,
I feel a sense of urgency in my movement.
For at any time, I might awake
From freedom’s dream
And be returned
Viciously
To Egypt
Where I have no choice.
Where I am a number
Not a person.

And so we will wander
Trying to maintain
This half-awakened state
And fighting off the dreams
Of darkness
Of plagues
Of death
Of passing over

I was so scared
Not knowing what would happen
To me
To my family
To my people

But more than that;
To my neighbors.
My Egyptian neighbors
Who were not bigots and racists
But rather, who
Brought me broth when I was ill
Smiled at me when I seemed in need
Cared for me when I gave birth
And held my hand while I screamed the pain of loss.
I will remember their acts of kindness all the days of my life

And I don’t understand
How my God
The God of all creation
The Holy One who is called “I am that I am”
The one who treasures our lives
Can have so little care for the lives of other people.

Why must they die
So that I can be free?
Not live…be free.
What is the value of a life of freedom?
How is that held above
The loss of life altogether?
How can God act as an agent of genocide?
Wiping out the generation of those
Who have not yet
Had the chance to prove themselves

Perhaps they would have been different.
Seeing the value
of all people
Besides the value
of slave labor
But rather the holy spark
Which makes us tzelem elohim.

It is this spark which I saw in my neighbor’s eyes.
I too held her hand
Brought her broth when she was ill.
Cared for her when she gave birth.
Mourned her loss with her.
Celebrated their festivals with her.

O Holy Source of Blessing
Will I ever know the joy of that friendship again?
It too was holy.
And yet You
In an instant
Took it away from me.

And so
When we cross
From slavery to freedom
And Miriam takes up her timbrel
And begins to dance
I will not follow her.
I will not dance
At the funeral of my enemy.
For she was also my friend
And I too feel her loss.

 

Type: Dvar Torah