Saturday, October 13, 2012

And When It Is Too Hard, Cry Out!

Suffering in silence is not a Jewish virtue.

When our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, according to the book of Exodus:

The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried: their shriek for help from the bondage rose up to God.  God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God looked upon the Israelites, and God knew. (2:23-25)
Avivah Zornberg, in The Particulars of Rapture, points out that there are four synonyms for crying out here, in the short space of two sentences.  And God responds in four ways.  God hears, remembers, sees, and knows.    Our silence is what had allowed God to "hide God's face"--a terrifying expression the Rabbis use for "the human experience of being abandoned by God"--up to that moment.  Our crying out is what evokes God's response: a response of empathy and compassion. 

"And God knew."  What did God know that God, in God's omniscience, had supposedly not known before? At the Burning Bush, God tells Moses this: "For I knew their pain" (Exodus 3:7).  In Christian  thought, it takes divinity being incarnated in human form for God to know human pain.  For Jews, all it takes is an anguished cry by us, frail human beings.

All it takes?  What am I saying?  How easy is it to speak of our deepest pain, to recognize how far we are from freedom?  Far easier to dull one's pain, but far more dangerous as well.  Zornberg writes (paraphrasing the commentary Sefath Emeth):

The basic requirement of freedom ("redemption") is the awareness of "exile," the groan of conscious alienation.  To be in exile and not feel it--this needs a "great salvation."
Some biblical commentators trust that God will give us the capacity to feel our oppression and to cry out against it.  I grew up with the saying that God helps those who help themselves.  Suffering in silence is not a Jewish virtue.  Crying out against injustice is, and always has been, since the days of Pharaoh.  There is plenty of injustice today.  Let us not be silent!

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