In this week’s portion, Moses is called by God to go to Pharoah. Let’s remember that Moses grew up in Pharoah’s palace and knows Pharoah well. The current Pharoah’s mother fished Moses out of the Nile and raised him as her own. They grew up as brothers. But Moses comes to the realization of who he is, and is called by God at the burning bush. This episode, from last week’s Torah portion, was clearly transformational, helping to shape Moses to become a great leader.
So Moses is called to go to Pharoah, to tell him to “Let my People go.” He goes with his brother. Perhaps Aaron is there because of Moses’ speech impediment or perhaps, he is there to remind Pharoah that Moses is no longer an Egyptian. He is an Israelite, in dress and in kinship.
We know the story. The plagues begin and Pharoah makes decisions that will affect all of his people. All of the Egyptians suffer while the Israelites are saved from frogs, boils, etc. It seems clear that Pharoah cared more about his power, his status, his rule, than he did about his own people. Like many of the leaders of countries in that part of the world today, Pharoah showed disregard for those under his rule. Once he saw the power of the plagues, he could have saved his people lots of tsoris. But he was short-sighted, thinking that his power, his leadership, could never fail. Could this be any different from Mubarach, Sadaam Husseim, Quadafi? Is this drive for power what is keeping Assad in Syria?
And what of Moses and Aaron who answered God’s call? What does it mean to be called? This is not a concept that we talk a lot about in Judaism. But clearly Abraham was called by God, perhaps to the detriment of his family relationships. And so were our prophets. And Moses himself at the burning bush, and again here in this portion. I suspect that many are called, but few actually see or hear the signs and answer the call. I’ve often wondered if others walked past the burning bush and didn’t see it, didn’t stop, but just kept on going.
This week we remember the life of someone who seemingly answered the call with his life. With the celebration of Reverend Martin Luther King’s birthday, we remember not only him, but all of those who struggled, worked, suffered, and even died to create a better life for all people. Medgar Evers. Robert Kennedy. Rosa Parks. Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Cheney. I could gone on.
But what about those whose names will not be remembered by the masses?
In the movie Paperclips, we learned about the middle school in Whitwell, TN, who decided, as part of a unit on the Holocaust, to collect 6 million paper clips, to see what 6 million of something looked like. Through some unexpected publicity, the students were able to collect enough clips to represent the 6 million Jews who perished as well as the 6 million political prisoners, preachers, homosexuals, dissidents, and others who died. But they didn’t stop there. With the help of others, they created a museum inside a railway car that was used to cart Jews to the camps, and a decade later, they continue to teach students of all ages about a subject that this population knew nothing about. I remember the principal commenting that these students didn’t know anyone who is Jewish. This project clearly changed people’s lives and minds, and maybe prevented prejudices that might easily have been created. Were the teachers who facilitated this program called? How about the people who donated their money or time to bring the train car from Germany to Tennessee? The truck drivers? The train conductors?
Liviu Librescu, 76, was an engineering science and mechanics professor, married with two children. He was an Israeli citizen who survived the Holocaust. On the day of the Virginia Tech massacre, Librescu heard gunfire outside of his classroom so he ran to block the door as he told his students to jump out the second-floor windows. All of his students escaped safely, but Librescu stood his ground and was fatally shot by the gunman. Was he called? How about the countless others who helped out on that terrible day in 2006?
And most recently, we have the tales of heroism from Sandy Hook Elementary School’s principal Dawn Hochsprung and all those other brave teachers who protected their students. Some, like Hochsprung, gave their lives.
Every day I hear stories of modern day heroes in the news, or spread through Facebook and Twitter. And I expect that for every story, there is at least an equal number of kindnesses expressed without fanfare. We say in our daily prayers that we are created B’tzelem Elohim, in God’s Image. It’s hard to follow that call to be godly each and every day. But I wonder, is it possible that we can do a bit, be aware of others, keep our eyes open, and maybe, just maybe, when we see our burning bush, we will be able to recognize it and act?