Parashat Shelakh L’kha: Not So Close

This struggle is harder, and taking longer, than we thought

This week’s parashah tells the story of how, in the old Yiddish expression, mahn trakht und Gott lakht, “people plan and G*d laughs.”

Our ancestors, the ancient Israelites, expected that the journey to the Land they were promised would be their new home would be just a few days of hard hiking and lack of water. For a Rohingya family fleeing persecution in Burma, Venezuelans migrating to Ecuador, and a family standing on the other side of a river separating Mexico from the United States, it can seem so heartbreakingly close: that freedom and safety are just over the hill, around the bend, across the river.

Human migration for the sake of survival is as old as the species homo sapiens and the walk out of Africa that took place 100,000 years ago and more. We do not stay in one place for long – another reason why the idea of owning land and refusing to share it for the sake of another human being is inherently unethical. Seen from this perspective, anyone without a haven might confidently assume that they can pitch a tent or erect a lean-to on any available and promising piece of ground, and it would be hard to gainsay them.

As our Torah tells it, our ancestors’ arrival, finally, to a safe haven they can call home is delayed because of their own lack of ability to trust each other. The brutalization they experienced as slaves in Egypt impeded them just as surely as lack of documentation or hostile border patrols. It took our ancestors a full generation to overcome their trauma, and informs our urgent sense that what was done to us should not be done to anyone.

We as Jews know that treating the migrant as the home-born is a primary ethical imperative of our tradition: “the same rule shall apply to you and to the stranger who resides among you” (Num.15.16) appears in this week’s parashah, one of thirty-six times we are commanded not to oppress a stranger, but to respect them as we wish to be respected.

We also know that to speak out is not enough; we must also act. This week I offer you opportunities to act on behalf of the wandering refugee who traces the steps we once trod:

  1. support Refugees International with a donation
  2. contact your elected representative (even if you know that they agree with you) to express your opposition to the camps in which the Trump administration is incarcerating innocent children

It is human to long for a better, more secure life. It is Jewish to help make that possible. In our supportive community we can take turns acting, then resting, then despairing, then acting, in hope, once again.


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