It doesn’t take 40 years to walk from Egypt to Canaan. Even at a leisurely pace, with a full Sabbath day of rest each week, one could handily make the trip in under two months. Why, then, do the ancient Israelites wander in the wilderness for so long?
Torah suggests that God deliberately led us by the most roundabout of routes in order to teach us that the journey toward redemption is neither quick nor easy. The pathway to the Promised Land is circuitous and full of setbacks. For each step forward, there are sometimes two steps back. The road to light and liberty often seems to wind back into the darkness. The arc of the moral universe may, as Dr. King reminded us, bend toward justice, but only with a great deal of effort over a long course of time. Our calling — and challenge — is to muster our collective courage, faith and resolve at just such moments in history when the desired destination seems most distant.
Last month’s election marked such a difficult turn, away from liberation and back toward the house of bondage that Torah calls Mitzrayim — Egypt, or literally, the “narrow place” of cruelty and oppression. The Electoral College’s selection of Donald Trump as our president-elect will plunge America deep into the wilderness. For a whole host of reasons — some understandable, others nefarious — our nation has elected a candidate whose campaign wallowed in misogyny, racism, xenophobia and countless other expressions of bigotry. While I hope and pray that Trump governs more compassionately than he electioneered, his first round of appointments does not suggest that this will be the case. It is far more likely that he will put forth an agenda in which the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the most vulnerable are even more endangered and the environment goes to hell.
Trump’s America, will, in short, look more like the fleshpots of Egypt than the beacons of the Promised Land.
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Eyeing this grim political landscape, progressive people of all faiths and creeds (and atheists and agnostics) may be tempted to despair — but we cannot afford to wallow in our grief. The time for mourning is past. Let us remind ourselves, and one another, that, as in the Torah, the road to redemption is long and hard. This is the season to roll up our sleeves and get to work, to double down on our commitment to liberty and justice for all. As Thomas Paine wrote in the depths of the cruel winter of 1776, these are the times that try our souls. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he [and she] that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
In this urgent hour, the Holy One calls us to defy injustice and resist oppression, to put our hearts and souls and bodies on the line in defense of our brothers and sisters: Muslims and undocumented immigrants, people of color, the LGBT community, women whose reproductive rights are profoundly endangered, the hungry and homeless just blocks away from the obscene opulence of Trump tower — and the whole of God’s creation that is burning while the climate-change deniers callously fiddle and drill.
It’s dark out there, but the Promised Land still beckons. The race is not to the swift. With time, we can restore this nation to its moral calling. Let us start to lead the way.
Dan Fink is the rabbi for the Ahavath Beth Israel congregation in Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.