Guatemala – Opening Drash

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I was honored to give the opening drash (words of Torah) at our first gathering on the trip:

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have anxiety getting ready for this trip. It’s a new experience, as it is for most of us, I’m leaving my children for the longest I’ve ever left them, and it didn’t help that when I registered with the state department, the screen popped up with “DANGER, UNSAFE DESTINATION.” So what did I do with this anxiety? In typical rabbi fashion, cliche as it is, I spent a fair bit of time doing what I always do to understand a situation. I turned to my favorite guide to life, the Torah.

The first text that popped into my head was “Lech lecha martzecha m’moladetcha, m’bayt avicha.” Abraham had a nagging in his heart, a sense that there was more he could do for the world if he got out there. So, with a similar nagging from Joe and Ruth, I’ve decided to leave my home, my family, the comfort of what I know, and go on this journey into the world.

Abraham’s model is one that I find continually relevant in my life. When we get too comfortable in our own space, with our own security, we have a responsibility to step out and see how we can help others to find more comfort in their lives.

However, Abraham leaving his father’s home isn’t the end of our journey as a people. We come to our parshah this week, Beshalach, and here we are again on a journey. Our nation is in the wilderness. Egypt, their previous host country, was hostile towards them, oppressive, unsafe, and corrupt. There was nowhere to go but up, and so with much trepidation, they rushed out, arriving at another obstacle, the sea. When they were able to cross the sea and journey toward freedom, they sang. Ozi v’zimrat yah. God is my strength and might; God is become my deliverance.

So much of this journey reminds me of the people of Guatemala. The land owners, the women, children, indigenous people. The underprivileged, the minorities, the poor. They are oppressed and fighting daily to find their strength. The midwives we’ll meet are the Shifra and Puah of their community, working to save lives, fighting for a just society. UDEFEGUA represents Moses who saw injustice in the workers and fought for a better, fairer world. And the workers on coffee plantations and banana fields (and I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels a sharp pang when I see my son eat a banana after reading Bitter Fruit), those workers deserve a voice for justice stronger than the Israelites in Egypt.

I have no grandiose misconception that our presence in this place is Godlike, but we do have the great opportunity to extend our arms, and especially our ears, to help, to listen, to reframe, to fight, and to deliver.

As we embark on this journey, my our ears be open to those who need our help, our hearts be strong and open, and our voices be loud as we stand up, and offer support to those who need it the most.

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