How slavery persists today
While the story of the Jewish people as slaves in Egypt is an ancient one, slavery persists in our modern world. In fact, there are millions of slaves across the globe today, more than ever before in human history.
According to the A21 Campaign, which works to fight human trafficking, “Only 1% of victims are ever rescued. Human trafficking is slavery. It’s the illegal trade of human beings. It’s the recruitment, control, and use of people for their bodies and labour. Through force, fraud, and coercion, people everywhere are being bought and sold against their will, right now, in the 21st century. Slavery is a $150 billion [R2.6 trillion] dollar industry.”
The organisation is “fuelled by radical hope that human beings everywhere will be rescued from bondage and completely restored. We are the abolitionists of the 21st century. We work with you to free slaves, and disrupt demand.”
It has offices all over the globe, including in Cape Town. “There are 40.3 million men, women, and children held as slaves around the world today. There are an estimated 155 000 people enslaved in South Africa today, according to the Global Slavery Index,” says the organisation’s social worker, Sarah Child.
“South Africa is primarily a source, transit location, and destination country for trafficking. This means that South Africans are trafficked within and without South Africa, victims travel through South Africa during their recruitment and trafficking, and victims are trafficked to South Africa. Importantly, many South Africans are trafficked here, within South Africa, from their homes to other places in the country.”
The most common types of slavery her organisation encounters are sex trafficking, forced labour – especially on factories or farms – and domestic servitude, in which people are trafficked and exploited in private residences. Other types of trafficking are forced marriage and bonded labour.
So, how do these slavery networks operate? “The one thing all victims have in common is vulnerability. Fifty four percent of South Africans are vulnerable to trafficking because of their circumstances, which include, but are not limited to, poverty, lack of economic opportunities and education, a poor quality of life, unstable social conditions, and a lack of social support systems.
“Traffickers prey on these individuals, and through deceit, people are recruited into trafficking. The most common way includes false opportunities such as a job, education, or the promise of a better life. Other recruitment methods include false relationships, being sold by family members, abduction, or the repayment of a debt. Traffickers then use various means of coercion and control such as violence, threats, and the denial of freedom of movement to keep people in trafficking situations.”
In addition, with so much low-cost labour in South African homes such as domestic workers and gardeners who are often illegal immigrants, “human trafficking is hidden in plain sight, and it’s happening throughout our communities around the country”, Child says.
This is brought into stark relief in the essay, My Family’s Slave, by the late Alex Tizon, published in The Atlantic in 2017. Tizon describes how the woman who raised him was his family’s slave for 56 years, both in the Philippines and America, doing her work without pay, accommodation, meals, or any kind of rights.
“Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us.
“No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived. Her days began before everyone else woke up, and ended after we went to bed. She prepared three meals a day, cleaned the house, waited on my parents, and took care of my four siblings and me. My parents never paid her, and they scolded her constantly. She wasn’t kept in leg irons, but she might as well have been. So many nights, on my way to the bathroom, I’d spot her sleeping in a corner, slumped against a mound of laundry,” wrote Tizon.
“She ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen, and had no private quarters.” The essay goes on to describe how he came to realise that Lola was a slave, and how he tried to make amends for this injustice for the rest of his life.
Awareness is key to combat this kind of reality. “We can’t combat something that we’re not aware of. We all have a voice that we can use,” says Child. “If you suspect something, say something. You can report it anonymously to the South African National Human Trafficking Hotline. Educate family and friends or reach out to organisations that can do a presentation at your school, workplace, or community. Support organisations by attending their awareness events, supporting them on social media, and financially.”
“Civil society has been active in the fight against human trafficking,” she says. “There are many NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] working together and with the government. Services include prevention and awareness, victim identification, and survivor care. In 2013, the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act was passed, which came into effect in 2015. This deals comprehensively with human trafficking including the criminalisation and prosecution of human trafficking, protective mechanisms, services for victims, and the responsibilities of different government departments.”
As Pesach approaches, her message to the South African Jewish community is as follows: “The number and scale of human trafficking can feel overwhelming. Let’s not forget the power of one – the one victim we can assist, or the power of one voice to make a difference.”
- South Africa’s National Human Trafficking Hotline operates 24/7 (even during lockdown). You can call the hotline anonymously on 0800 222 777.
Why we refuse to forget
Devarim is the parsha associated with Tisha B’Av, the Jewish national day of mourning. This Shabbos, we read the famous Haftarah of Chazon, the vision of Isaiah. And, next Thursday, we will recall the destruction of our holy temple nearly 2 000 years ago.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul
But why remember? The world cannot understand why we go on about the Holocaust, and that was only 75 years ago! For more than 19 centuries, we have been remembering and observing this event, and it has become the saddest day in our calendar. Why? Why not let bygones be bygones? It’s history. What was, was. Why keep revisiting old and painful visions?
They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris, and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple. “When did it happen?” asked the Emperor. “About 1 700 years ago,” was the answer. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot its past would be destined to forever have a future.
Elie Wiesel once said, “Jews never had history. We have memory.” History can become a book, a museum, and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive, memories reverberate, and memory guarantees our future.
Even amidst the ruins, we refused to forget. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. As they were led into captivity, the Jews sat down and wept. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept remembering Zion.” What did they cry for? Their lost wealth, homes, and businesses? No. They cried for Zion and Jerusalem. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.” They weren’t weeping for themselves or their lost liberties, but for the heavenly city and holy temple. Amidst the bondage, they aspired to rebuild, amidst the ruins, they dreamt of returning.
And, because we refused to forget Jerusalem, we did return. And, because we refused to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities the world over while our victors have been vanquished by time. The Babylonian and Roman destroyers of old are no more. Those nations became history while we, inspired by memory, emerged revitalised and regenerated, and forever it will be true that am Yisrael chai.
Only if we refuse to forget can we hope to rebuild one day. If we are to make our return to Zion successful and permanent, if our people are to harbour the hope of being restored and revived internationally, then we dare not forget. We need to observe our national day of mourning next Wednesday night and Thursday. Forego whatever entertainment options your COVID-19 lockdown allows. Sit down on a low seat to mourn with your people, and perhaps even more importantly, to remember. And, please G-d, He will restore those glorious days, and rebuild His own everlasting house. May it be speedily in our day.
Strength in diversity
The double portion of Matos/Massei deals with Moshe divvying up the land for the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
Rabbi Ryan Goldstein, West Street Shul
Moshe didn’t choose land based on population size, demographics, or even agricultural usefulness, it was all decided through the casting of lots. Leaving such an arduous task in the capable hands of Hashem was the best way to dodge any farribles.
The Twelve Tribes, once settled in the Holy Land, could finally bring to fruition the mammoth task of being a light to the rest of humanity. As the prophet Isaiah foretells, “Ki mitZiyon tetzei Torah [Torah will come forth out of Zion].”
The harmonious unity of the Twelve Tribes in one centralised place was very much like an orchestra, with multiple sounds coming together to form a beautiful symphony.
In fact, that’s how Hashem prefers things. He displays this to us through the diversity of nature. If Hashem wanted only one way of doing things, then nature would have sufficed with one type of fauna. For example, there would be only penguins around or zebras. Forget about the beautiful and intricate multitudes of glorious beasts, big and small, that inhabit our earth and deep seas. Hashem makes it obvious that He wants unity to thrive out of diversity.
The same is true of the tribes of Israel. Hashem wasn’t happy with Israel being represented by an Avraham figure, an Isaac, or even a Jacob alone. And even though Jacob was called Israel, that wasn’t our legacy until we became bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel). Why? Harmony through diversity. The tribe of Yehuda was earmarked for kingship, Yosef were to be the politicians, Issachar could sit and learn Torah all day, Zevulun were the sea-faring merchants, Shimon were the educators, and Levi were the priests and temple workers. One man/identity couldn’t be all things.
And so it should be today. Our job is not to judge, and to be tolerant of the paths and journeys each person has in trying to make their legacy within the realm of Judaism and Torah.
Visiting the sick good for our spiritual health
There is a fundamental mitzvah that is alluded to in this week’s parsha. When Moshe addresses the Jewish people in the stand-off against the rebel faction led by Korach, he says the following, “If these die like the death of all men, and the visiting of all men is visited upon them, then it is not Hashem Who has sent me.” (Numbers 16:29)
Rabbi Yonatan Landau, Ohr Somayach Savoy
The Talmud in Nedarim 39B discusses these mysterious words. What is Moshe referring to when he says, “the visiting of all men is visited upon them”?
The Talmud explains that this alludes to the mitzvah of bikkur cholim – visiting the sick.
What exactly does this mitzvah entail, and what are some of the benefits we reap from it?
Torah authorities tell us that there are two main components of this mitzvah. First, we must take care of the needs of the ill person. This entails making sure that their health is looked after, and that they have adequate food and clothing. The Talmud recounts a story of the great Rabbi Akiva, who visited a sick student and took care to clean the room of its dust. This helped the student to recover. Furthermore, often the extra effort can make a difference to a person’s recovery.
Second, we must daven for the ill person. When we plead with Hashem, he recognises that the fate of the ill person is in divine hands, and thereby invokes divine compassion. Our rabbis teach us that as Hashem, so-to-speak, visits the sick, the divine presence is more concentrated above the bed of the ill person, and therefore it’s particularly powerful to daven in their room.
Those who perform this mitzvah acquire four main benefits.
In Parshas Vayeira, our rabbis teach that Hashem visited Abraham after his bris. This means that one who practices bikkur cholim is in fact acting like Hashem, who is the epitome of kindness and love. This is a fulfilment of the mitzvah of walking in Hashem’s way.
Performance of this mitzvah on a regular basis also helps you to become a kinder and more considerate person as the classic work, the Sefer ha-Chinuch, explains it – a person is influenced by the activities he involves himself in.
The commentator, Kli Yakar, adds that visiting the sick reminds us of our mortality, which serves as a stimulus to improve our ways.
Rav Avigdor Miller says that when we see others with an illness absent in ourselves, we acquire an appreciation for the myriad kindnesses that Hashem performs daily with our bodies.
Hashem should bless us with health especially in these difficult times, and let us try, albeit from a distance, to fulfil this vital mitzvah.
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