Why did the Israelites wander for a generation in the wilderness? It was clear to God (and Moses) that the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt were unprepared to be free. And why? Because the Egyptians had taken away their sense of self. By insinuating enslavement into the lives of the Israelites, the oppressors had removed their ability even to think of themselves as free and autonomous human beings.
Of course some communal standards are important. Torah recognizes that, left to ourselves, we might justify stealing and infidelity and dishonoring those we love. We are proud to be a part of a moral and compassionate people!
But when any government seeks to dismiss the capacity of a person to think of herself as a free and autonomous human being, that government wants to take us back to Egypt. It is no more the business of an outside authority to know what is inside a woman’s womb than it is to know what is inside her heart – unless she freely volunteers the information. When legislators by any name try to enter these very private places, they attempt to insinuate enslavement into the lives of a generation. We worked too hard to be free to go back, and there is no reason to wander in another wilderness when that freedom is already at hand.
Let this cup of liberation remind us that freedom is already within us and must not be taken away. No matter your age, your gender or your orientation (which is to say, no matter your practical concern), each of us and all of us were liberated from enslavement and none of us is going back.
-Rabbi Jack Moline is the spiritual leader of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia and directs public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
For more information on reproductive justice, please visit rac.org/reproductive-rights-and-womens-health.
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