Friday, February 14, 2020

"Go down Moses..."


                A couple of weeks ago, I had surgery to replace a faulty part of my right knee.  All went as expected and the recovery process is remarkably smooth and remarkably fast.   My first real  outings were to attend services at our local synagogue and church.  I was unimaginably touched by the tender care  and concern I received in both places.  Much prayer for a full and complete healing, offers of meals (which I readily accepted), tender visits from members of both congregations, lots of emails and phone calls with good wishes.  (This “double belonging “ really pays off in a crisis!)😁   At the synagogue there was sensitive “accompaniment” into and out of the building lest I stumble and fall.  My food appeared in front of me at the table during the Kiddush lunch that follows the service.

When I entered the church on Sunday morning, the pastor greeted me and suggested that I sit in the front pew so that I would have more room for my less than flexible leg.   My husband located a chair to place in front of me so that I could “elevate.”  Another church member walked by and glanced at the chair and commented “that’s way too high  and uncomfortable” and she quickly brought another chair that was a much better fit.  She looked again and said “you need a cushion under your leg” and promptly disappeared, returning a few minutes later to place a  wonderfully soft cushion under my leg.  Ahhhhh!   Just right.

I reflected on the caring I had received across the weekend services.  Some verses from Exodus (3:7&8) kept reverberating in my mind, words spoken by G-d to Moses in the conversation where G-d is  about to commission Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.   Robert Alter in THE HEBREW BIBLE: A Translation With Commentary renders the words this way: “ I indeed have seen the abuse of My people and its outcry because of  its taskmasters.  I have heard, for I know its pain.  And I have come down to rescue it from the hand of Egypt and bring it up to a goodly and spacious land…” The Message  translation reads: “I’ve taken a good long look.  I’ve heard their cries.  I know all about their pain.  I have come down to help them, to pry them loose from the grip of Egypt.”   And one further variation from the New International Version: “I have seen their misery.  I have heard them crying out.  I am concerned.  I have come down to rescue…”

       The micro inevitably leads to the macro.  Pharaoh rules with a harsh and unkind fist gloved in the desire to limit Medicaid, requiring people to work in order to receive government health benefits, to reduce Social Security benefits, to cut food stamp programs, to maintain unconscionable wealth in the hands of the few while infrastructure deteriorates, white supremacy flourishes and  anti-semitism slithers openly once again like a toxic basilisk permeating the land with its foul, fatal breath.

And G-d says to Moses: “I have taken a good long look and seen their misery. I have heard their cries.  I have come down to help them - to pry them loose from the grip of Pharaoh.”  The action words have seemed to me to be a kind of formula for pastoral care - to see and hear and understand the pain of another - - and then to take action in the other’s behalf.  This is certainly what I experienced in my encounters in my beloved faith communities  where  people care for one another and observe each other’s vulnerabilities - - pay attention  - - and act to relieve sadness, pain, discomfort where they can - - where I was seen and attended to.

The election year is unfolding at a rapid pace.  In a still wide field of candidates, there is much uncertainty yet about who is most likely to unseat Pharaoh. The divine model provides a good gauge of character for figuring it all out - - can we elect a winning candidate who clearly sees the devastating pain of this country?  Is there one among the many who can hear the cries that surface among people too long denied justice and full participation in American life and government?  Is there one strong enough, attentive enough, compassionate and empathetic and savvy enough to pry us loose from the grip of Egypt?

Perhaps a more important question is “Are there enough of us who will listen to the challenge that is placed  before Moses to become the means through which the seeing, the hearing, the concern and the action are made manifest in the service of a greater wholeness for all?”  Time is short.

Vicky Hanjian

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