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Egypt on my mind


Speak to the Israelites and have them bring Me an offering. Take offerings from every person whose heart compels her to give. And these are the offerings you may take from them: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breast-piece. They will make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them.

So begins this week’s Torah portion, Terumah (Offerings; sometimes translated as “Gifts”). For 80 verses, God dictates the set-up for the Ark, Tabernacle, and Tent of Meeting in minute detail, the first major communal public works project of this newly constituted people.

And a project of this scope puts me in mind of Egypt.

Egypt: Where women and men have taken to the streets in mostly peaceful protest, secretaries & students, cab drivers & dentists, homeowners & shanty dwellers, Internet-savvy youth & doting grandmas, both secular & religious, pragmatists and dreamers. Entire families have slept in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square so as to be there for history. Many – desperately poor – brought only themselves and their vision of a different Egypt. Others, well-off and not-so-much provided basics for medical care or food and drinks for those in need.

Take offerings from every person whose heart compels.

Contrary to our romantic notions of how change — let alone revolution — happens, organizers have been working toward something for years. January 25th was chosen as a “Day of Anger” to coincide with “Police Day.” a national holiday (this is a country under a state of emergency since 1967). Thousands showed up to Tahrir (Liberation!) Square in Cairo, with smaller demonstrations elsewhere around the country. All hell broke loose (i.e., water canons and tear gas) and then all-hands-on-deck as the protests grew. Internet shutdown. Looting. More protesters. More tear gas. More protesters. Announcements, counter-announcements, government thugs, more protesters — at last count, over a million in Cairo alone.

I watch and read and listen — and a familiar warmth overtakes me, the same sense of it-will-be-alright-even-if-it’s-not-obvious that I felt dozens of times as a union organizer and social justice activist. Change comes so damn slowly, but throughout my life, I’ve been privileged to see people do what they didn’t think was possible over and over: speak the truth, stand up for what they believe, act. All the offerings your hearts will compel. It will take everything we have (and more) to make the kind of world we feel proud to live in.

Egypt. Where 2 women convinced a group of (male) pro-Mubarak thugs armed with razors & bad attitudes to leave them alone just by talking to them. Where another woman clamoring for change kissed a young riot police officer — who must have been totally unprepared for what was being asked of him by the situation — as if he were her own son (photo courtesy of The Atlantic). Where the military chiefs decided to allow peaceful protests rather than using the tanks at their disposal for violence. Where, despite today’s increasing government-sponsored violence, change has begun. Change that cannot be turned back forever.

Make a sanctuary where the ineffable may dwell. Make a sanctuary where we can feel the presence of the Divine. See it in each others’ faces. See it in the moment of transformation.


By sheer coincidence, my poem for this week’s parsha/portion (written several years ago) is about Egypt as well – a deadly train wreck along the banks of the Nile. May the memories of everyone who has died trying to repair our torn world be for a blessing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 02/10/2011 9:50 am

    Let’s hope and pray that the changes they’re clamoring for in Egypt will work themselves out in a positive way and not in a negative way.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      02/10/2011 5:15 pm

      Agreed. I feel the same way about our own country…

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