Noach, Avraham, Moshe Rabbeinu, and the Power to Nullify Racism

As a Haitian-American woman, I have been in many life intersections.  Am I African-American or not?  The White people who say, “You’re not like the others!” were they trying to compliment me or divide and conquer? Can one have pride in being a Haitian or is it as horrific as the media says? 

Although my parents tried to shield me from many things, among them racism, the brutal gentrification of our neighborhood was quite obvious.  My brothers were frisked frequently, people were pulled over if they didn’t move fast enough when the light turned green.  This brought in a new slew of racism questions.  Why are Black people hated so much?  In the case of my neighborhood it was mostly Puerto Ricans.  Why is there so much negativity directed at Black and Brown?  Although I had since moved to Israel, my concern for the Black/Brown world is still in my heart.  That and a pocket full of questions.

I never found anyone to really answer these questions for me.  Not, until, I came to Judaism.  In Judaism I learned about three pillars, three people who were real game changers.  Noach, Avraham, and Moshe.  And with these game changers, I was able to make sense out of the whole thing.

The way I see it at this point, in a depraved society — when everyone is corrupt and is out to outdo the next fellow in corruption, at these times, the racist seems like the most righteous person out there.  When everyone is looking out for number 1 – themselves, the only one who’s actually trying to bind two or more people in kindness or caring or even love is the racist.  It’s not necessarily racism, any us versus them by default entails an “us” which means more than one person is to be concerned for.

In Noach’s society, that was exactly what happened.  Everyone had become corrupt, stealing from one another, the courts were a farce, etc.  So Noach was given the task of building the ark and saving only his family and the animals.  He did try to warn the rest of humanity.  Once.  But after that he went on about his business knowing full well that everyone would die in the flood.  And yet he is considered righteous – for that time.

This is also what I see today in America. With so much corruption going on, sex scandals, corrupt politicians, even dishonest business men, the name of the game is to make a buck any which way you can — whether it’s exploiting people’s woes in reality shows to scamming hard-working people with bad mortgages. Everyone is out for number 1.  Themselves.  As a result, the police can shoot Black men dead in the streets for the most minor of reasons and get away with it — or get rewarded paid vacation leave.  But everyone is too busy protecting their asset to fight against it.  Or when people actually do fight against it, it’s mainly other Black people.  Even though injustice is a threat to the whole fabric of a society, no one seems bothered except the “us.”  That is truly a depraved society.

Then comes a slightly higher level.  The level of Avraham — in this stage society can pretty much figure out what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s beneficial and what’s detrimental.  They understand that goodness and trust is needed in a society in order for it to function.  However, they do not dismantle the status quo (established by the Noach level).  The ones kicked stay kicked; the elite stay elite.

This was the case with Avraham.  He was full of kindness and was ready to preach the “good word” to anyone who would be his guest.  But he didn’t uplift anyone (nor down grade anyone).  If they were considered an outcast, so outcast they remained.  Such was the case with his faithful servant Eliezer.  Eliezer had a daughter he wanted to match with Avraham’s son, Isaac.  But Isaac refused because Eliezer was from the bad stock.  Never mind that according to some, Eliezer was so holy that he went to heaven literally — he didn’t die.  Even then because his status was what it was, Avraham would not associate with him.

This was a bit how I saw many Jews today.  They are very kind.  Willing to share the Torah and have a great time.  But at the end of the day, you must stay in your lane.  Not all Jews are like this, but they are out there.

It was awesome that Operation Solomon happened and Operation Moshe and the many other operations that helped to bring the Ethiopians Jews to be with their brothers in Israel.  But it is also heartbreaking to hear them complain about the racism they’ve experienced there.  A few have even gone back to Ethiopia.

Stay in your lane.

I know even as a Black Jew, some people are hesitant to call upon a Black Jew to come to the Torah or would use a Black person in their advertisement when they want to represent the typical “goy.”

 And then there’s the Moshe Rabbeinu level (Moses).  Moshe was like a bull in a china store!  He crashed through all the taboos and social mores.  Whereas the Jewish people were punished for trying to emulate the Egyptians, Moshe lived right inside the Pharaoh’s palace learning their ways.  Whereas the Jews avoid those who worshiped idols or like in Avraham’s story, distanced themselves from those considered lower status, Moshe later married Midianite woman, the daughter of the high priest of Midian no less. Previously he married an Ethiopian woman as well.  Whereas most prophets had to go into a sort of trance to receive heavenly messages, Moshe was said to receive them while he was in his regular conscious state.  Whereas most scorn the Egyptians and considered them vile, Moshe brought some of the Egyptians that had been turning to Judaism (probably since Yosef’s time), to come and receive the Torah as well.  He totally put the people ahead of himself.

Interestingly, it was this one who crossed and crashed through so many social mores who was the one to bring the Torah laws to the Jewish people.

This makes me think of all the times in history when the law was on the evil’s side.  The holocaust was legal, slavery was legal, so many horrific things can be made legal, but it’s the bull in the china store that can bring down the true, goodly laws. The Rosa Parks. 

This makes me think of the imminent redemption and nullification of racism.  Can it be that only when we are willing to charge ahead like a bull in a China store will we bring down laws that are in pleasant places?  Only when we carve our own paths? Thought schema? Our own Torah understandings?

Nevertheless, we must be cautious not to let things get too depraved otherwise the highest point we will be able to see is to just huddle together in an “us” versus “them” dichotomy

At any rate, the goal to strive for is the Moshe Rabbeinu level. It’s great to call upon the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But maybe, just maybe we should be calling upon the G-d of Moses (that facet of G-d)?



The Nation of our Fathers

What is a nation?  According to the Oxford Dictionary a nation is: “a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language inhabiting a particular state or territory.”  Currently, due to unfortunate circumstances of our exile from our home land, the Jewish people do not seem to fit this definition.

It is true that we are all descended from Abraham and Sarah (whether physically or spiritually) and that we share the same history (as described in the twenty four books of the Tanach).  It is also true that we have inherited from our ancestors common cultural attributes (such as the pursuit of justice, heart for kindness, a love of learning, and a desire to make a better world) and that Hebrew has been the language of the Jewish people for the last 3.000 years in prayer and learning (and now again in speech).  Yet it seems that we are lacking the most important qualification of a nation:  a land which unites us all!  

Let us consider if the land of Israel can be that missing link.  On one hand, it definitely unites the Jewish people: It is the place of our origin. It is the place of our destiny.  It is the country we cry about on Tisha B’av.  It is the country we dream of on Passover.  It is the country we pray for in the midst of our weddings.  It is the country where the righteous wish to be buried at the end of their days.

 But for over one thousand years the majority of the Jewish people did not dwell there.  Even today the Jewish People reside in over one hundred countries, spread over six continents.  How does the land of Israel keep us as a nation if we do not all dwell there?  Rabbi Mordechai Breuer answers that the unique relationship each of our forefathers had with the land of Israel set a precedent for the future generations of their descendents.  Our nation sometimes has a relationship with the land like of Abraham (Aliya), sometimes like of Isaac (Dwelling), and sometimes like of Jacob (Return).

Abraham made Aliya to Israel.  Abraham was born in Ur, the biggest metropolitan city of ancient times.  On God’s command he left the culture and technology of his birth place and made his home in the not-cultivated land of Israel.  Abraham shows us that Israel is our homeland regardless of our place of birth.  

Isaac lived in Israel.  Isaac was born in the land and even in tough times did not leave. Isaac cultivated the land and he didn’t give up when the locals opposed his efforts.  He kept on digging new wells until they realized that he is committed to the land and here to stay.  Isaac teaches us that our homeland is Israel, no matter what others claim.

Jacob returned to the land of Israel.  When he was forty years old, Jacob left the land of Israel to live in Aram.  There he was very successful.  Yet Jacob left his wealth to return to his homeland.  Jacob shows us that even if we live elsewhere the country of Israel is still our home.  Jacob demonstrated this again when he was living in Egypt and commanded his children to make sure he will be buried in Israel.  He was telling his children “You might temporarily need to live outside Israel-maybe even for hundreds of years-but don’t forget that your true place of residence is the land of Israel.”

The three relationships our forefathers had with the land of Israel were repeated on the national level.  Like Abraham our Father, the Jewish People were born outside of Israel and we “made Aliya” to establish our homes in the promised land.  Like Isaac our Father, the Jewish people cultivated the soil, fought the Pelishtim (Philistines) who contested our existence, and ultimately established ourselves as the true residents of the land of Israel.  Like Jacob our Father, the Jewish people had to leave the land and found themselves in a new place with an opportunity for prosperity.  Yet when the Jews had the ability to return to the land of their forefathers they did.  The first Aliya (Shesbazar), the second Aliya (Zerubavel), the third Aliya (Ezra) and the fourth Aliya (Nechemya).all contributed to the Second Common Wealth, a renewed Beit HaMikdash, and even a more glorified state than before.
Today, on both a national and individualistic level, we witness the renewal of all three relationships that our forefathers had with the land.  From throughout the world, the Jewish People are making Aliya and returning to their home.  In Israel, the Jewish people are cultivating the country, fighting off the enemy, and with a silent and modest determination, establishing the nation of Israel as the permanent residence of the land.  

The Nation of Israel Lives!!!