In the medieval midrash Pirkei deRebbe Eliezer (ch. 43), Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah teaches that even Pharaoh was capable of teshuvah. Just as Pharaoh sinned by saying, “Who is the ETERNAL / Mi Adonai ? ” (Exodus 5:2), he repented with the same language, saying, “Who is like the ETERNAL / Mi Chamocha ?” (Exodus 15:11). God rescued him from the Red Sea and made him King of Nineveh. When Jonah came to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh, at once Pharaoh led his people in teshuvah, and God spared the city.
The midrash has an epilogue, though: After 40 years, Nineveh backslid and was swallowed in the depths of the underworld. This teaches us that teshuvah is an ongoing process, never a closed ledger.
What might redemption look like today? What teshuvah does it demand from us?
• Reparations for African-Americans and Native Americans/First Nations
• An immigration policy that treats all people with respect and compassion — such as the “Free to Move, Free to Stay” framework proposed by United We Dream: https://unitedwedreamaction.org/framework-2020/
• Ecological sustainability, so that none would have to flee as climate refugees
• A civilization governed by values other than the bottom line and production of cheap goods
What else do you envision?
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