Freedom in Our Day

Posted on January 29, 2021 by Cantor Risa Wallach

The story of the Israelites being freed from Egyptian bondage by God, with Moses as their leader is a story of redemption. The Israelites were saved by God’s power, and we became God’s people in the process, ultimately receiving the Torah at mount Sinai and joining in the covenant with God that binds us together to this day. This week’s Torah portion, parashat B’shalach includes the Song of the Sea, the ancient poem recited following the escape of the Israelites through the parted waters at the Sea of Reeds.

The future redemption that our tradition envisions is embodied the coming of ‘Moshiach’, the Messiah. Reform Judaism understands the Messianic era as a time when we, ourselves, will bring an era of healing, of peace and of every visions of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) that Jews strive toward every single day.

For us, in our day, redemption can mean many things. For European immigrants to this country, the experience of leaving frightening circumstances at home and starting a new life may have felt something like redemption. Especially for those families who found that they were able to succeed in the ‘Goldene Medine’, in Yiddish, the Golden Land of America, it must have seemed miraculous, though much hard work was required. For those who escaped the Holocaust, all the more so.

Today it may feel difficult to envision a Messianic era, when peace reigns across the globe, when everyone has enough of what they need, where no one oppresses others, no one harms the planet or other living things, and where there is no illness, no sadness, no pain.

But if we can allow ourselves to take time to imagine the possibility of that time, maybe we can find just a few glimpses. What does it sound like, how does it smell, what does it feel like? What would begin to happen? What would stop happening?

In our day, immigration to the United States has become a fraught issue, deeply politicized and tinged with racial and economic anxieties. I chose the song the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ for our service tonight, to highlight the aspirations of immigrants to this country over many centuries, including many of our own ancestors.

As a country we still struggle mightily to grant full human rights to those who arrive at our borders seeking asylum, especially those who have been separated from their own family members, parents from children, in numbers that are too great for us to bear when we realize their human impact.

While the new administration in Washington has begun to change the policies that have led to this awful suffering, many families have not been reunited, and 628 children are still living in cages as of December, according to CNN. Refugees are still making their way to our borders, and their numbers are only increasing.

When we sit at our Passover tables this year, we will remember our own freedom from bondage, and we must recommit to making sure that other people can receive that same freedom.

May we work to bring the day when redemption can be tasted by all who seek it, freedom to live in safety and to pursue a life of adequate sustenance and freedom from persecution. Let us not forget those who have yet to find their promised land.

Cantor Risa Wallach