January 21, 2021


1.22.2021 Weekly Torah Portion

I imagine that the Israelites were not so different from us now.  They witnessed (in last week’s parashah) signs and wonders and destruction: the main water source turning to blood, overwhelming frogs and lice and flies, sick livestock, boils, and hail.   Some of it may have affected them, some the Egyptians only.  With all this chaos, the Israelites must have been aware that they were on the precipice of something – uncertain what that something was, but certain that they were living in a historic moment.  So too us.  Our plagues are different, but we also know change is here.

In Parashat Bo, more plagues wreak chaos: locusts devouring crops, immoveable darkness, and ultimately, the killing of the first born.  And hasn’t this latest chapter of American life been chaotic: profound divisiveness and dismissal of human dignity.  Exposure of cruel racism.  And a plague of our own.

The plagues of Egypt culminate in the death of the first born.  And while COVID-19 has mostly – and sadly not entirely – spared our children, have we not also faced unprecedented death this year?  More Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in World War II.  And those of us in circles of recovery and addiction grieve – for friends, for family, and yes, also for our children.

We are so like the Israelites – in a moment of upturning change, on the verge of something.  What to do with the plagues of our time?  Do what the Israelites do: get free.

This chapter, this long 2020, shows us (whether we like it or not) that we are a part of Something Bigger.  There is no denying it.  Who could have controlled, imagined, even dreamt of the events of this chapter, this past year, as they have unfolded?  No human.  Not you.  Not me.  Not even the people who imagine themselves gods of political worlds.

The Pharaoh in me would say: Oh, but that wasn’t God.  That was just hungry locusts.  Or That was just an eclipse.  Or disease.  Or Trump.  But even Pharaoh bows to life and death.  And the bowing to what we cannot control – the admission that I am not God – the surrender is what sets us free.

Should we live through the pandemic, should we continue to choose not to pick up and use, we will walk out of Egypt and through that Red Sea and into the demands of freedom.


The young poet laureate Amanda Gorman recited:

“But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith, we trust.”


The Jewish story is this:

But while freedom can be periodically delayed,

It can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith, we trust.

This is the hope of recovery.  This is the foundation of living in which, each and every day, I make choices to live one grain of sand better: to help instead of ignore or do harm; to show up instead of check out; to be a part of instead of isolate from.  Our faith comes from the very chaos we have been living through – the very chaos our ancestors lived through, and their ancestors lived through.

I don’t know what’s coming:

I don’t know if our divisions can be healed,

what the spiritual and economic fallout of the pandemic will be,

or even if tomorrow is promised.

But, like the Israelites, I have faith in freedom.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Kerry