Friday, January 20, 2012

Two-minute Torah: The Groaning of the People and Haitian Relief Efforts

The Sefat Emet, a Chasidic commentator who lived about 100 years ago, teaches us that the reason the generation of the Exodus merited redemption is because of a verse in this week's Parasha, VaEra. In Exodus 6:5, God says to Moses "I have heard the groaning of the Israelites." The Sefat Emet says that this "groaning" was the Israelites call to God for deliverance, which is a necessary condition for redemption. In order to gain freedom, one has to believe that freedom is possible.

I came to understand this very strongly when I visited Haiti in 1993. I was part of a group of ten rabbis sent there on a fact-finding mission to meet with Catholic and Protestant religious leaders who were trying to restore democracy after the coup which had overthrown the democratically-elected President Aristide in 1991. We learned that the Haitian people identified very strongly with the story of the biblical Israelites. They are a deeply religious people and we saw an "Israel Clinic," a "Jerusalem Art Center" (where I bought a couple of paintings which now hang in my study, a number of bakeries called "El Shaddai" and even a taxicab called "L'Adonai."

We learned that the movement towards democracy in Haiti began in particular with Catholic priests and nuns who started literacy projects among the poor and the rural farmers. Throughout the era of "Papa Doc" Duvalier from the 1950s through the 1980s, the majority of Haitian people had become accustomed to their oppression. But when they began to learn to read and to think of themselves as human beings, beloved of God no less than those who ruled them, they began to long for freedom and a better life.

Last week marked the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake which destroyed much of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, and killed 220,000 people. Two years after this horrible disaster, relief efforts are still underway.

I want to point you in the directions of some ways you can help. The Jewish Federations of North America have a link to donate funds for Haitian relief at . You can also donate through American Jewish World Service at The Haitian Health Foundation is located here in Norwich and run by my friend Dr. Jeremiah Lowney and his family. You can make a donation to this worthy organization at

Shabbat Shalom!

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