As the parasha begins, the Egyptians have had it. They can’t stand the suffering anymore. They demand of their leader to let the Israelites go free. “And the servants of Pharaoh said to him: ‘Until when will this one be a stumbling block to us? Send out these people that they may worship Adonai their God. Don’t you know yet that Egypt is lost?'”
Pharoah calls Moses and Aaron in to the palace to tell them of his decision – he will finally let them go. But even as he prepares to liberate them, he asks, “Who will be going?”
And now, as Rabbi Shimon Felix has written, with his answer to the king of Egypt, Moses lays the groundwork for universal suffrage and the French and American Revolutions: “With our young people and our old people we will go, with our sons and our daughters…we will go, for it is a holiday to God for us.”
Pharaoh’s answer makes it clear that he still doesn’t get it; he still has no intention of truly liberating the Israelites. “…Not so, let the male adults go and worship Adonai, for this is what you ask.” For Pharoah, the meeting is over: “And he drove them out from before him.” The deal is off, and the locusts arrive the next day.
We Jews know this story all too well, and it burns in our kishkes, in our guts. We retell this story not once, but twice each year-once in the weekly Torah portion cycle-and once again on Passover. It’s a story that drives people of faith to remember, as Frederick Douglas wrote, “Until we are all free, we are none free.”
This week, as we Jews hear once again the call of Parashat Bo, a large number of New Jersey clergy – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – went to Trenton to lobby for marriage equality. We went because there are people in our midst – gays and lesbians in our congregations – who are still denied the basic rights that so many of us take for granted.
We went to speak to our legislators who have the power to grant freedom to marry to all of New Jersey’s citizens, because we understand that, until we are all free, we are none free.
This is a tough issue for Jews, as my colleague Rabbi Yoel Kahn has written:
“Many rabbis and communal leaders would prefer to avoid the topic completely…. To these leaders, the homosexual is welcome within the organized Jewish community only so long as she or he remains invisible and refrains from asking for recognition and legitimacy.”
The status quo, then, for our Jewish community and for the State of New Jersey has been the equivalent of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” We must do better.
If you don’t understand the relationships of gays and lesbians; this still is not the issue. There are things, however, that you do understand: love, devotion, faithfulness, the desire to know that you are never alone in the struggles and triumphs of life. Those things you do understand.
Here we have Jews who love each other, who are committed to each other and to raising Jewish families. Will we or will we not allow them the freedom to thank God for what they share, in the sanctuary of our synagogues? Will we or will we not allow our congregation to rejoice with them at this moment of their joy? Will we allow them the civil rights and responsibilities of all married couples? These are the most important questions.
I was honored to be numbered among the many clergy this week who answered those questions in the affirmative. We said, as Moses and Aaron did, “With our young people and our old people we will go, with our sons and our daughters….” We said: we will go, all together. And, as with the Israelites of old, freedom is coming.