Rabbi Steinhardt's Sermons

Parshat Shmot – 5779 

Have you heard who is Time magazines “Man of the Year”? 

Over the years, great men have been chosen. And some great women too. 

Wallis Simpson, The Feminine Mystique, Madame Shaing Kai Shek. 

Since the title had been given out, almost every American President has received this designation. I don’t think Obama received this award. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually received it three times. 

Innovators and adventurers have received the award. Charles Lindbergh and Walter Chrysler amongst them. Astronauts have also received the award. 

And, notorious leaders have also been rewarded. These include Hitler and StalinKruschev and Ayatollah Khomeini. 

 Its also been received by great state men, peacemakers and those I would call agents of change… Gandhi and Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King and Yitzchak Rabin, Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul the second. 

 My alltime favorite was the year that a small mirror was placed on the cover of time magazine. It indicated that you, the readerwas the Person of the Year. I think it was prescient and pointing to the fact that individuals with the growing technologies were in fact, gaining more power. 

 Today I think that would be disputable. Most of us feel rather small and helpless in the face of the larger issues that we are facing. And we also, have begun to wonder about the truth. 

And this has been done purposively to us; this has been created by autocratic rulers throughout the world Amongst those places and those autocratic rulers in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Myanmar, the Philippines, China, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Brazil and, as you know this list is incomplete…. 

So this year, in recognition of this reality Time’s person of the year are Jamal Khashoggi…. whose last words after being choked to death and carved up were “I cannot breathe.” His desire was to reveal a story. It is the story of a corrupt oppressive regime, Saudi Arabia and its relationship with our own country. 

 He wanted to bear witness to truth. 

But he isn’t alone in the attempt to bear witness to truth. 

It is also an attempt to speak truth to power. 

In the Philippines there is a 55 year old woman by the name of Maria Reese who has chronicled the violent drug war and extrajudicial killings of 12,000 peopleDuterte and his government will be attempting to send Maria Rappler to prison for her reporting. 

 In Annapolis Maryland this past year five staff members of the Capital were gunned down on June 28th. 

 In Myanmar, there are two young Reuter’s reporters in jail for seven years because they documented the deaths of ten minority Muslim RohingyaShahidul Alam is a photojournalist in Bangladesh. He is in jail for making provocative and false statements after criticizing Minister Sheik Hasina. 

Amal Habani was arrested and beaten with electric rods while covering protests in the Sudan. 

And Patricia Mello was targeted with death threats after reporting that President elect Balsanaro had funded false news stories. 

Over and again there is an assault on truth and the reporting of truth. 

 And thus, TIME magazine has made its persons of the year the journalists who report the news. 

The magazine refers to them as the Guardians of the war on Truth. 

  I’ve spoken about this concern from here a number of times this past year. 

I worry about our capacity to find the truth when we are inundated with the stories that are tinged and treated by political dictators and autocratic regimes. 

But I believe we know that this battle is one that we and all freedom loving people must and will rage. 

We know it is fundaments to our liberty and our freedom. It is concretized in our constitution whereby a free press is guaranteed and whereby truth is a fundaments expectation of our judiciary. 

 And what I realize and want to bring to your attention is an aspect from our tradition’s ongoing man of the year. He is introduced to us this year and there are aspects of his character that need constant reminder. It is the reason he is our rabbi and teacher, our law giver and leader, and our liberator. 

 

Of course I am speaking about Moshe. 

And I want to point a few dimensions of his leadership that we see today. And these aspects of his leadership, his personality and his being, is why God chose him to be the one to speak truth to the powerful. 

 

Let me point our three events in the Torah and then one event from the rabbis. 

The first is when Moses goes out from pharaoh’s palace and witnesses the taskmaster beating the Hebrew slaves. 

He looks this way and that, and he strikes the taskmaster…. he kills him. 

This is a man who could have remained in the lap of luxury but he could not tolerate cruelty, he could not tolerate the wrongs that men do to their fellow men. 

This is followed by two Hebrew slaves quarreling. He tries to resolve the fight and they express their fear that he will strike them too. But what he is doing is trying to create peace. WHAT HE WANTS TO DO IS RESOLVE CONFLICT. 

 He realizes that his earlier deed is known and so he runs to Midyan. There he sees the daughters of Yitro being harassed. He disperses them, he takes care of the daughters…… and he is protective of the innocent. Different people than his own. A different tribe. But he responds to a deep moral voice and conviction about wrong doing and abuse. 

And probably as a function of all three….the man who strikes out against the evils of a society, the man who tries to make peace between brothers, the man who protects the stranger….he isn’t rewarded, rather given an even more difficult task. 

 God appears to him in a burning bush and tells him he must go to Pharaoh. He must demand that the Hebrew people are set free. 

He must speak truth to power…. 

How difficult that would be back then. 

And how even more difficult it seems to be these days… 

Or is it? 

We can’t answer that question. 

 All we can do is respond to the call. 

And it is very clear in the beginnings of this book of exodus. 

 The man who becomes the role model is the man who will respond to evil, it is the man or the woman who pursues peace. And it is the man or woman who will step up to protect the innocent. 

 From there comes the responsibility to speak the truth to power. 

 This story is very old. But its message resonated even to this very day….maybe it speaks even louder. 

We need those voices…. We need to stand up , honor, protect the guardians of truth. 

The rabbis taught us that it is OUR RESPONSIBILTY to stand for truth. 

That is why I find this year’s Time magazines so particularly poignant. 

And I believe it creates for us a responsibility to protect or journalists, the journalists from around the world. 

We cannot allow Khashoggis story to be buried, we cannot forget those journalists, 

We bear witness to truth…..and in so doing, nothing less than bearing witness to God. 

 My prayer, and I know I speak for all of you, is that  truth will continue to march on as we hope and pray that 2019 sees better leadership in the world, and brave people standing up to the corruption and cruelty that is t far too prevalent. 

 

Shabbat Shalom