Borrowing a phrase from the athletic sphere, this Friday we will witness a whole new ballgame. A new President will assume leadership of our country. When I lead the Prayer for our Country in synagogue this Shabbat, I will certainly pray for him to succeed. I will pray that he possesses the wisdom to heal a country more divided than any period in my lifetime. To his office he will bring a new philosophy, a new agenda, a new style and a new character. We hope that as he assumes office, President Trump will reassure the entire nation that he will honor all citizens of our country regardless of color, ethnic or national origin, gender and economic status. We hope he will focus on new jobs for the unemployed; and quality health insurance for those afraid that what they have will be taken away. Most of all, we hope he will serve the highest office of our land with responsibility and conscience.
There are many of us who welcome our new President with passionate voices of optimism and euphoria. There are others who will greet him with voices of protest and concern. This weekend both of these voices; the voice of optimism and the voice of protest will be on display. Friday’s uplifting Inauguration will be followed by Saturday’s massive demonstrations being planned throughout the US. We live in a country which enables us to freely and publicly select either of these two conflicting paths. Many will celebrate the Inauguration with a sense of national pride. Many others will exercise their Constitutional right to raise their voices on behalf of rights and privileges they are afraid of losing. I know there are people who regard Saturday’s demonstrations as a sign of disrespect and contempt for a President who has not even served one day in office. My take is that we should celebrate and cherish a country which not only encourages us to welcome a new President, but which simultaneously protects our cherished right to assemble in protest against that same President; as long as we do so through peaceful means.
The Constitutional rights we enjoy are certainly rare; both in our generation and in world history. As this week we begin the second book of the Torah, the Book of Shmot; we are witness to an ancient society far less tolerant than our own. Setting the scene: Joseph and family are gone. The euphoria of a poignant family reunion is a distant memory. The benevolent Pharaoh, who elevated Joseph and embraced his family is past history. A new leader arises; a leader who will impose his own style of leadership-and will enslave the Jews. Ironically, we learn more about the authoritarian power of Pharaoh from a story about two rare dissidents, who risked their lives in defying their leader. Enter Shifrah and Puah: Two, modest Egyptian midwives, who ignore Pharaoh’s command to kill all Israelite baby males. By virtue of how the Torah is so effusive in praising these unique women, we appreciate how their acts of protest are rare. indeed for their society. No Egyptian would dare take to the streets in protest of Pharaoh’s harsh treatment of another nation. The Constitutional freedoms we enjoy were unheard of in ancient Egypt. It is probable that the Egyptian people overwhelmingly supported their Pharaoh against the Israelites; just as the German people supported Hitler’s war against the Jews. Nevertheless, the right to protest was certainly suppressed; unlike the right we enjoy in America.
So this weekend, as many Americans either celebrate or protest our new President, we should all be appreciative of the rights we enjoy to choose the path which satisfies our convictions. We should celebrate the opportunities we enjoy to raise our voices in celebration and dissent; and we should pray that our new Administration will continue to honor the priceless freedoms which have made our nation so unique in the history of the world.