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The Usual Excuses

03/10/2021 08:10:17 AM


“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  And like that – poof – he’s gone.”  Thus spoke the character, Verbal Klint, about the mastermind, super criminal Keyser Soce, as credits begin to roll in the movie, The Usual Suspects.  This line arose to my mind today and quite a few other times recently, as I listen to those who seek to re-write the history of the hours-long attack on the Capitol on January 6th, the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd suffered with a knee on his neck (watched and observed by anyone with a TV or a phone), the countless people of color who have been executed on video by individuals in uniforms, and of course, the “myth” of COVID-19 and the “uselessness” of masks.  Especially, as we approach Passover, the expressions that “there is nothing to be seen here, just move along, and trust the authorities,” reminds me of the eternal relevance of the story of the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. 

What is the Pharaoh’s most important claim?  That he is God and with him, from him, and around him, he is therefore the TRUTH.  What is the biggest challenge to his authority?  Not only that there is another God who is perhaps stronger and more powerful than him.  But that the power of this God of Israel is found in the freedom and potential God gives to us.  Yes it is true that the story of the Exodus is based upon the trajectory of moving this erev rav, this mixed multitude of formerly enslaved human beings, from servitude to Pharaoh to servitude to God.  However, servitude to God is expressed most importantly in how we each stand for the truth of another’s freedom.  The source of God’s Divine power may be a mystery.  But its expression and relevance can only be found in how we each bring it to life for the sake of the other. 

Those who draw on Divine power, accessible to all human beings, in only a unilateral manner, blind themselves to what we are and why we exist.  Passover is important because it is the meta-story of the Jewish people – that once we were slaves and now we are free.  And that because we were strangers, we must not oppress the stranger.  We must not make of our neighbor, a stranger.  In the context of the Exodus, there are no excuses for purposeful estrangement.  There is no room for deciding who is worthy or who is not.  There is no allowance for lying, cheating or stealing, all the more so when the excuse that is offered is wrapped up in a sometimes (but not always) veiled attempt at disenfranchising the other. 

On Passover, we sing Dayeinu and Avadim Hayinu, the 4 Questions and Chad Gadya, we drink from 4 cups of wine, and hold aloft symbols imbued with the wisdom of our ancestors in order to resist the temptations of power.   We do these things to be “re-mindful” that the devil does potentially exist in every one of us, if we neglect and forget what makes a Pharaoh so powerful.  And that is allowing him to build a world around him that reenforces his insistence that he is God.  But Pharaoh is not God for if he were, he could never have been an enslaver of human beings as this is the ultimate falsity.  Discerning the truth as it relates to other human beings indeed starts, you guessed it, with hearing, seeking to understand and making room for the truly intimate worth of the other.  If one just holds up this measuring stick against false efforts of rewriting history that took place before our eyes, modern day Pharaohs turn to dust just as the ancient ones of the past.

Mon, September 27 2021 21 Tishrei 5782