It was with those words and an extended hand that I first met Edgar M. Bronfman, of blessed memory, about a decade ago. I had recently been hired as Executive Director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), one of the initiatives that he was funding. And over the course of that decade, I was incredibly fortunate to spend time with Edgar M. Bronfman, a contemporary hero of the Jewish people. (I use those words genuinely—my professional relationship with The Samuel Bronfman Foundation ended when STAR disbanded in 2010.) Anyone of a certain age involved in Jewish communal life knew the name, Edgar M. Bronfman, and for good reason. As a small tribute to Edgar, I’d like to frame several personal reflections in a way that he would appreciate: with brevity and with Torah.
This week’s parashah, Vaera, opens on a depressing note. We left off last week with Pharaoh further demoralizing the Jewish people. What is his response to Moshe’s demand to liberate them? He responds by obligating the Jewish people to gather the raw materials for brick baking, something that he had provided them with, and still produce the same quota of bricks. Moshe’s chutzpah in confronting Pharaoh is repaid with more back-breaking work, not more freedom! And how do the Jewish people respond when Moshe tries to encourage the people to believe in a better, achievable, not-to-distant future? “And the people did not believe him because their spirits were crushed and the labor was hard” (Exodus 6:9). After all those years of oppression and humiliation, can you blame them for giving up easily after their initial hopes were shattered?