This week's portion: unleavened sacrifice
A tiny teaching about healing prayer

Social justice in the holiday season

I tend to focus here on liturgical, textual, and spiritual matters, not social justice ones. But a recent post at Radical Torah reminds me that our liturgical lives and our political lives are necessarily intertwined. Check out Pesach and Globalization, a post by David Seidenberg that explores traditional seder prayers through the lens of Hasidic commentary Tsuf Amarim, yielding insights about poverty and justice. "Exile came," that text tells us, "because the owning class eliminated charity in order to make themselves richer..." This is good pre-Passover consciousness-raising stuff, and it makes me want to highlight some of the smart social justice posts in my aggregator.

The rabbis over at Virtual Talmud are posting this week about immigration reform. All of them have interesting things to say, though my favorite among their posts comes from Rabbi Joshua Waxman. His post is called The Stranger In Our Midst, and he writes:

In our hearts, Jews are immigrants. The very name "Hebrews," Ivri'im, comes from the word 'to cross over'; Hebrews are boundary crossers... [We must] deal humanely with a class of workers whose plight is created in part by globalization, our existing immigration policies, and our insatiable demand for cheap goods and services. In other words, we can heed the Jewish experience of exile and the injunction not to oppress.

Rabbi Waxman's post put me in mind of something I'd read a while back, by Rabbi Daniel Brenner of Reb Blog. It's not as current as the other things I'm linking to here -- he wrote it in early February -- but I think it still resonates; it's called Jewish Perspectives on Immigration. He notes that immediately following one instance of the Torah's most oft-repeated verse (about loving the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt), there is an injunction about honest weights and measures. He writes:

Why is a law about strangers followed by a law about honest measurement in the marketplace?

Because in order to create a society which treats the alien as the natives are treated, we must begin by creating a just, transparent, economic system. One which does not cheat immigrants, one that does not create a second class of citizens who must hide in the shadows for fear of imprisonment and deportation...

There's a new post at JSpot about this issue, too. If a Tree Falls in the Forest... cites an article in the Forward in order to argue that economic justice and immigration rights are profoundly Jewish issues. (JSpot is a relative newcomer to the Jewish blogging scene, a project of Jewish Funds for Justice; the blog focuses on "contemporary issues of social and economic justice" within the United States.)

I keep returning to the quote from Tsuf Amarim about how exile was our karmic payback for choosing greed over charity. The Hebrew word usually translated as charity, tzedakah, derives from the root meaning "righteous;" one path to righteousness lies in remembering that there are people today still awaiting the economic, social, and spiritual liberation we celebrate at this season.

We count the omer between Passover and Shavuot to remind us that we are freed not only from, but also toward; the journey which begins with the Exodus reaches its culmination in the covenant between us and the Infinite. And that covenant includes the obligation to love the stranger, and to treat the stranger equably -- to remember our oppression, and to use that memory in a radical way, choosing to break the chain of repetition. Our covenant calls us to refrain from enacting oppression on others, either actively or passively, and ignoring economic injustice breaks that covenant in a passive way.

So when we raise our matzah in a couple of weeks and intone, "this is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt," we need to ask ourselves, who's eating the bread of affliction now, not because it's a symbolic Passover gesture but because it's the only bread they have? And what can we do about it, once we open our eyes?


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