Tuesday, January 20, 2009

St. Louis JCRC Council D'var Torah

This piece came to us from a good friend who is working for the Jewish Community Relations Council. While it may have been delivered a week ago, we think you will find the topic relevant and the perspective interesting.

D’var Torah JCRC Council Meeting 1/13/09 Heather Paperner

Last week’s and this week’s torah portion create one of Judaism’s most well known stories. In last week’s torah portion G-d reveals Himself to Moses and reminds us of the covenant he made with our ancestors. G-d promises to take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them and acquire them as His own chosen people at Mount Sinai; He will then bring them to the Land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

Moses and Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G-d, "Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness." Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron's staff turns into a snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. G-d then sends a series of plagues upon the Egyptians.

The waters of the Nile turn to blood; swarms of frogs overrun the land; lice infest all men and beasts. Hordes of wild animals invade the cities, a pestilence kills the domestic animals, and painful boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a devastating hail. Still, "the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go; as G-d had said to Moses."

In next week’s torah portion the plagues continue, until all the first born Egyptian children are killed and finally Pharaoh relents and releases the Israelites.

As I looked at the two portions, I began to wonder how this story would play out today. Which headline would be sent to my cell phone as I scurried through my day? “Egyptian’s Enslave Thousands” or “Hebrews Use Biological Warfare” Would my preferred cable news network interview an Israelite wanting his freedom, or an Egyptian mother who just lost her son after suffering through a humanitarian crisis?

Which statistics would the radio tell me on the way to report, what would I read in the Post-Dispatch or the Beacon as I drink my morning coffee, and when I take sometime in the middle of the day to eat my lunch and read my favorite blogs what would their commentaries be?

Something tells me their commentaries wouldn’t be anything like the ones that have been written about Moses and Pharaoh so far.

While I made dinner what would the television in the background play? Would the media loop the same videos of Egyptians living in locust and darkness talking about how since the land was ravaged by wild animals and hail they have had little food or an Israelite showing where he was enslaved? Which would the cable network feel would get better ratings?

If today’s media were responsible for reporting one of Judaism’s most famous stories, how would it sound? Would it be so clear that Moses and the Israelites were correct in their actions, or would the ten plagues be disproportionate force? Would we all unequivocally feel that we were in the right? What message would we take from this story if it was created by today’s media? I doubt that it would be survival and triumph that we currently hold.
Perhaps Marshall McLuhan was right, perhaps the medium is the message. Maybe it matters more where we get the content from, than what the content is.

I can only wonder if it was not the media giving us the content about the current situation in Gaza, but some other source would the world look at it the same way? Would there still be people who felt Israel was horribly wrong in its actions? Would some of us still have angst, torn between an Israel we have been to, an Israel that we love and the one we see in the media?

If you have a few moments later today, perhaps in the car on the way from here, I urge you to think about the content you know about the situation in Gaza, and think about what it might sound like coming from a medium other than the media.

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