We take for granted that Moses was the leader of the Children of Israel, the brave man who stood up to Pharaoh, the wise one who came to God’s attention because he took notice of a wondrous bush that burned but was not consumed by the fire.
But let’s visit the scene at the burning bush for a moment. Suddenly Moses finds himself confronted by a Deity who speaks to him from a shrub in the middle of nowhere and gives him an unthinkably difficult task.
Moses is clearly taken aback. He is a former prince, now a shepherd who has fled his own country, married a nice girl and settled down, and this is probably the last thing he expected to happen.
I couldn’t help but think of this when Oprah Winfrey gave an impassioned speech at the Golden Globe Awards and was suddenly confronted with a demand to run for president. She may have expected accolades for her eloquence, but I doubt she expected that there would be an outcry for her to vie for the highest office in the land.
This movement goes far beyond the issue of a celebrity running for high office. We’ve been there, done that. And our current president isn’t the first. Remember Ronald Reagan? Jesse Ventura? Al Franken? John Glenn?
But Oprah is much more than a mere celebrity. She is a woman and she is black.
Should Oprah run? I don’t know. I am less interested in whether or not she runs for president, than in the question of what does it mean for our society to consider nominating and possibly electing a black woman as president.
Are we ready as a nation to seriously entertain the notion that all people are created equal?
We just finished eight years, two terms of our first black president. When he was elected, many believed that it heralded a new era for race relations in America, yet his time in office was rife with overt prejudice and sly innuendo, directed both at him and his family.
It is not coincidental that the movement encouraging Oprah Winfrey to run is happening the same month we read of the call to Moses, and the very same week that we stop to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King had a lot to say about leadership, about exercising just power, about how we treat each other. He called for us to transcend our prejudices, to become the people we imagine ourselves to be.
And his prescription for doing that was simple: he asked us to love. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
In our Torah, Moses reluctantly accepts the task. He knows instinctively how difficult it will be, that neither the enslaved people nor their oppressor will listen to him. And yet, he persevered. And we are the better for it. May all people of good will continue to persevere as we pursue justice and equality for all.
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi Jennifer