This is part 2 in a series. To read part 1, click here.
Throughout my life community has often felt elusive, changing, and fluid. I used to struggle with this and felt envious of people who had one clear group of people bound together by a common identity they felt connected to. As I have gotten older I have found that there is something special about a community that doesn’t have clear borders, multiple communities that intersect, change and evolve, without one identity to define them.
Community is also a theme throughout Shemot. Even though Moses was raised by Egyptians, when he sees an Egyptian beating one of his “kinsmen” he kills the Egyptian, because has such a strong connection to “his people”. But who are Moses’ people? The obvious answer would be the Israelites, but perhaps community is more complicated than that. Perhaps in that moment, Moses sees the Israelite as one of his own, not because he is an Israelite but because he is a human being who is being abused and exploited, and that is what makes him part of “his people”. As Jewish people we are familiar with what it means to be oppressed, excluded, scapegoated and exploited, and simultaneously we have a lot of power and privilege.
The sooner we can see community in a more interconnected way, and strive to understand pain that is not “our own”, the more drastic the impact we can have in tikkun olam: repairing our world and working together against oppressive people and systems. This is not to erase the existence of individual communities, or claim to be part of communities that are clearly not our own. However, I believe that if we can relate to oppression on a deeper level, we can build more expansive communities. I hope that as I continue to work with and alongside people who are and are not part of “my communities” that I will better understand the struggles of “our communities” and work alongside others towards inclusive justice.
I’d like to think in the last eleven years I could look back on this portion and it would all click, but in reality I just have more questions. Shemot is about being humble in the ways we live and the work we do while still fighting for what we believe in. It is about not always knowing what is “right” and what is “wrong” but not letting that prevent us from struggling with these concepts and striving to do what is right, even when change doesn’t happen immediately.
There is a Talmudic saying, found in Pirkei Avot, that says “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world but you are not to desist from it either.” We can’t always get all the way there on our own; rather we must be patient, celebrate the little victories, lead by example, and trust those who come after us to continue the fight.
But most importantly we must have faith. It doesn’t matter in who or what exactly, but we have to have faith that we are part of something bigger, that what we do matters if not for today, for tomorrow and if not for us then for those who come after us, even if we’ll never see the benefits of our service. I hope that I will continue to question right and wrong, continue to ask “Who am I?” and continue to challenge the borders of community.