“I sat shiva for 10 days. Then I started plotting.”
This is a quote from a Stacey Abrams in a recent interview in Vogue about how she dealt with the grief of losing the 2018 Georgia governor’s race. Aware that her razor-thin loss was due in large part to racist voter suppression, she dedicated the next two years to expanding voting rights in her state, which may very well be the key to Joe Biden and the Democrats winning the electoral college.
There are so many things to talk about in this week’s parsha, Vayeira, which is like the Stefon’s hottest club of parshot. “It has everything”: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s Jerry Springer family drama, the turning away of Hagar and Ishmael by Sarah and Abraham, and the binding of Isaac. On the surface, these stories all seem rather disconnected, but what is resonating with me right now is that they all involve people who, see their rights and boundaries trampled, and how that impacts them, their families, and communities.
Let’s start with the Sodom and Gomorrah of it all. As a queer person, obviously I have feelings about a story that is used to justify bigotry against LGBTQ people. We’re told that Lot is the only virtuous person in Sodom, and the only real evidence given for this is he welcomes the messengers from G-d into his home—a similar move that his uncle Abraham pulls earlier in the parsha. The people of Sodom come to Lot’s house and demand Lot turn over the messengers so they can have sex with them. Lot, virtuous mensch he is, offers up his virgin daughters instead, whose consent is never obtained (the consequences of this come to bite Lot later when Lot’s daughters believe they are the only three people left alive and that the only way to save the human race is to get their father drunk and have him impregnate them. What did Stephen Sondheim say about how “children will listen?”). It is no wonder that Lot’s wife may have some complicated feelings about walking away from her home while G-d reigns fiery destruction down on it. And for her sense of nuance, she is reduced to a pillar of salt. Can you imagine if instead Lot’s wife was exalted for her prophetic sense of empathy, and like Stacey Abrams, was able to have the opportunity to bridge the ideological divides in her home, rather than be asked to simply wash her hands and walk away.
But G-d in the Tanakh isn’t really into nuance. The prevailing theme over and over seems to be that the only way to move forward is complete and utter consensus and obedience—that any dissent will cause the whole house of cards to crumble. Sarah sees her son Isaac playing with Hagar’s son Ishmael and decides the only solution is to have Abraham turn them away. Never mind that Sarah was the one who forced Hagar into Abraham’s bed in the first place; like the essential workers applauded for their sacrifice at the beginning of the pandemic, only for the largely poor and marginalized population to be discarded when they protest for their rights and demand support to keep their families safe.
What is incredible about Stacey Abrams is that after the 2018 election in Georgia was stolen from her, she had every reason to shut down, cut herself off and say “screw it” to the broken American political process. There are many Democrats who have basically written off the entire red part of the country, content to let it burn down in flames in its bigotry like Sodom and Gomorrah and not look back. But it takes bravery to stare into that darkness, into that discomfort and decide that there are things worth saving. Stacey Abrams no doubt knew that by diving into the fight against voter suppression, the Republicans in Georgia would do everything they could to reduce her and her allies to a pillar of salt, but her efforts this year in 2020 may be the first step in bridging our country’s oceans of division. Let's make sure if the Democrats pull this off that Stacey Abrams--and all of the other black women who have showed up for this party time and time again--are given the honor and respect they deserve.