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‘Now a new king arose over Egypt.’

This Shabbat we begin our reading of the Book of Exodus, which describes the violence and death that ensue from the creation of a false narrative about the Jews, a deluded conspiracy theory about a dangerous Israelite 5th column by the incumbent Pharaoh, leading to oppression and the death of the Hebrew boy babies under Egyptian control, and the subversion of peaceful rule.

In real time on our television screens last night we witnessed an angry march on the Capitol in Washington DC, the heart of American democracy, incited by President Donald Trump. Violent mobs took over the Capitol and stormed the inner chamber, where the results of the US election back in November were being rubber-stamped by senators, a constitutional formality, as it has been every 4 years of America’s history since 1789. The violence leaves 5 dead.

How did things come to this?

Anne Appelbaum, Staff writer for the Atlantic, historian and author, isn’t surprised or even shocked by yesterday’s events. On the Today programme this morning she described the violent take-over as, ‘The culmination of a process that’s been building for 4 years. When he began running as President 5 years ago Trump did so by attacking the principles of American democracy. He did so in his inaugural speech 4 years ago this January when he attacked the Capitol. He said, ‘’Washington does not represent you,’’ meaning Washington of both the Democrats and the Republicans.’ Back in May Brian Klaas, Associate Professor in Global Politics at University College London and columnist for the Washington Post, made the following predictions: That Donald Trump would reject the election results; that he would falsely claim that the election was rigged; and that he would cause people who were violent to take up the cause, and cause death. All 3 of those things have happened.

The writers of our Torah were not prophets. They merely read events critically, and foresaw that a new king who did not respect the rule of law and respect the rights of all its inhabitants would inevitably lead to violence, chaos, death and upheaval on a national scale. Analysts of authoritarianism around the world recognised Donald Trump’s tactics as quite familiar. ‘Although our country is unique in many ways, it’s not exceptional,’ says Anne Appelbaum. ‘Authoritarianism always begins with the creation of an illusion, with conspiracy theory, with some form of lie that is needed to break people off, to separate people from the mainstream of society, to create an alternative vision of how society should be run… America can’t avoid some of the pitfalls that other democracies have faced.’ According to Brain Klaas, it’s important to highlight that yesterday’s events did not come out of nowhere. ‘This came out of a concerted effort from the President and his allies to stoke violence over a series of months in order to retain power after losing an election, through conspiracy theories and lies… It was the predictable end point of an authoritarian movement that does not accept the results of democracy.’

‘True is your word forever. It is certain for us, it is firm, accepted and good,’ states our liturgy in the lead-up to the Amidah. Emet/Truth begins with the letter aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, our aleph bet, and ends with tav, the last letter. In the centre is mem, the aleph bet’s middle letter. Truth contains all that is. Reality is reflected in it. It is a central mission of Judaism to seek out truth, to speak truth, and to enact truth in the world. Then, in the words of the Aleynu, ‘All humanity shall speak out in Your name, and all the wicked of the earth shall turn to You. Then all who inhabit this world shall meet in understanding, and shall know that to You alone each one shall submit.’ Let us pray for the peace of America and all its citizens, let us call out lies, conspiracies and threats to democracy wherever we meet them. ‘On that day the Eternal shall be One, and known as One.’

Stay home to Save Lives. Get vaccinated as soon as you can.

Wishing you all a safe and peaceful Shabbat,

Rabbi Lisa