What a wonderful parsha to begin these Weekly Words of Wisdom (With Rabbi David Schneider) – the parsha that tells of the last three plagues and the going out from Egypt. A new beginning for the children of Israel and, more importantly, a new beginning for the features page of the Jewish Chronicle. Of course it would have been better to have started at Rosh Hashanah or Simchat Torah, when we start reading the Torah all over again, but no, the editor, in his wisdom, um-ed and aah-ed and was frequently unavailable, like the four previous editors before him, until finally, like Pharaoh, he gave in and released my words from bondage. At least I didn’t have to slay any first-borns to get my way.
I’m joking of course.
But what about the parsha with its story of Passover? When I think of the Seder night, I think of the four sons in the Haggadah, especially the sneering son who says of the Passover miracles: “what’s this to me? Behold, am I bothered? Does my face look bothered?” Well, if he were my son, I would be quite witty and say in a smiling but adult way: “Remove thy hoody and be bothered! We may no longer be slaves in the strict Kirk Douglas Spartacus sense of the word (though they were more gladiators, I suppose), but in many ways we still are. (Slaves, not gladiators)”.
There are many different forms of slavery. Take a contemporary example. A man’s wife tries for years to get him to agree to having an extension built at the back of their house so they can have a breakfast bar and easy access to their south-facing garden. It’s an investment, she says, it’ll put value on the house. So finally he concedes. So they get quotes, choose a builder (even though, quite frankly, their quote was the least competitive) and the work commences. Little progress is made; in fact after a few weeks it seems to the man that work has ground to a halt. But he’s a busy, working man and he’s entrusted the project management to his wife, so he keeps shtum. So imagine his surprise when he comes home one day during the daytime to find his wife of 22 years in bed with the builder. All the more surprising seeing as the builder’s company are called Ladybuild and the builder’s actually a woman called, confusingly because it’s a man’s name as well, Leslie. No apologies, no excuses, just “that’s the way it is, like it or lump it!” Is that not treating someone worse than a slave? Is that not behaving exactly like Pharoah, doing whatever you want? I rather think it is! I rather think only Pharoah would hire a lesbian builder then sleep with her behind her husband’s back!
And I don’t think she can wriggle out of it by saying it’s his fault, he’s to blame! He’s been spending all that time with a female member of the congregation who’s in her 30s and who is, I suppose, very attractive, not that I’ve noticed. Doesn’t matter that she’s blind and recovering from major surgery, that she’s unable to read to herself so it’s actually a mitzvah to spend time with her, reading, talking.
Yes, we’re all slaves in one way or other, we all have to endure different forms of bondage – be it depression or anxiety or malicious gossip saying, for example, that there’s something physical going on with this congregant which, by the way, is pure loshen hora, speaking evil of another person, which, she should know, is a grievous, really, really horrible sin. I follow the sages when they say it is better to lose one’s tongue than speak evil of a person. I’d honestly rather be struck dumb than say one negative word about someone else. It’s just a shame that pathetic, spiteful, scheming witch who’s casting aspersions on an innocent, attractive blind girl doesn’t feel the same way.
Next week: Patience, trust and love: Parsha Beshallach.
This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle