Torah Reading for Week of October 21-27, 2012
“Ancient Wisdom: Modern Consciousness”
By Rabbi Cheryl Weiner, PhD, ‘07
G-d says to Abram, “Go from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Not only do we envision our patriarchal archetype forging his life in a new land, we also understand that he has to look inside of himself to forge a new ethical reality, different than that of his father’s or his former culture. As soon as he ventures off on his journey, he is beset with famine and has to go down to Egypt to find sustenance. Before he gets there, he asks his wife to say she is his sister, so that he can offset an attack from Pharaoh. Pharaoh takes Sarai sexually and Abram and his collective are given safe passage. However, G-d besets Pharaoh with plagues and chastises Abram on account of this deception.
On reading this passage, this year, I am struck by its message. This is perhaps the first recorded instance of sex trafficking. Having just returned from the American Jewish World Service Young Rabbi Delegation to Ghana, I have indeed been shown a different land and a different culture. In Ghana, we were exposed to the issues of illegal child slave labor and all of its ramifications. The NGO we partnered with, Challenging Heights, rescues young boys taken to be slaves in the fishing industry on Lake Volta. They also rescue girls forced into prostitution to control the older boys through sexual slavery. Through a school, a rehabilitation trauma center, a women’s empowerment program and micro-finance, Challenging Heights has been able to change the consciousness of an entire community about how to protect children and provide for themselves economically, so that they stop supporting trafficking.
Upon returning home, like Abram, I hear G-d saying that I need to go forth to a new consciousness. I need to see what surrounds me with new eyes. As I tell my story of being in Ghana, I have been directed to government workshops and programs on sex trafficking in Florida and in Miami. I have chosen to watch the documentary, “Half the Sky,” which details the role of sex trafficking of women in numerous communities from Africa to India. G-d, through AJWS, has woken me up.
The statistics are staggering. More people are enslaved today than at any other time in history. The U.S. State Department estimates those enslaved through human trafficking ranges from 4 million to 27 million and is the fastest-growing criminal business in the world, second to drug trafficking in profitability, bringing in an estimated $32 billion annually. The majority of those trafficked are young adults and a significant number are children. Almost all have experienced either sexual exploitation or violence, often both.
So how do we take this in spiritually? We recognize that G-d did not want Sarai to be used sexually by Pharaoh. Then, as we move through the Torah this year, we bear witness that G-d does not want slavery or rape or sex trafficking or the appropriation of prostitutes in times of war. Then, we act, by contributing to organizations opposed to slavery and trafficking through tzedakah/contribution, and through advocacy world-wide. The children at Challenging Heights shout their motto from Luke each day, inspiring us to effect change: “To whom much is given, much is expected. “
We have been given much, our Torah, our instruction manual for empowering the disempowered. Thus, much is expected of us. G-d brought Pharaoh to his knees and chastised Abram. Can we do any less?