Rabbi’s Corner: Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere – Remembering MLK, Jr

 

This weekend we remember and commemorate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: civil rights leader, social justice activist, pastor, preacher, husband, father, scholar, orator, dreamer.

This week as well, we delve more deeply into the book of Exodus as we read the second portion from this book, Parshat Ve’eira. The book of Exodus relates the story of the Jewish people’s struggle for freedom of oppression from slavery in Egypt. It was a long, hard road for our people to find our way from Egypt to the Promised Land of Israel. A road fraught with disappointment, frustration, set backs – and yet, on this road, our people, the Jewish people, was born. Our nation found its path toward building a covenantal relationship with God. We discovered some of the greatest eternal truths that still guide us today, thousands of years later.

Many peoples have experienced struggles of slavery, oppression and bondage. Many people have had to walk that same road our people did so many years ago. As we are all too well aware, the struggles are still not over. This year especially, our challenges have been particularly painful and trying.

The Jewish people’s story of oppression and redemption strongly resonates with the lessons that The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught. Dr. King often spoke with a prophetic voice echoing the same biblical values, morals, and ideals we espouse as a Jewish people. He fought for what was just and right and fair. Many rabbis, ministers, priests and good people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds walked along side him. His message still cries out to us today, in our broken, hurting world.

Many among us experience both privilege and comfort. Yet our experiences remind us that not all are free. This weekend, we best honor Dr. King’s memory, and the teachings of our own Jewish tradition, when we shake ourselves from complacency and affirm our pursuit of justice, as Dr. King, taught:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Birmingham, Alabama, April 16, 1963).

Dr. King’s words go hand-in-hand with what Jewish tradition teaches:
“In a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.” (Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 2:6)

This Shabbat we will pray: Help us O God, to see, to hear, and to know the injustices that keep us from redemption, that keep us from being whole, that keep us from being complete. Enable us to hear the voices of others when they tell us how they are oppressed, how they are suffering, how they are in pain. Grant us wisdom and compassion to eradicate the experience of the captive – especially those still held in Gaza by Hamas for over three months, so that all may experience their God-given right to live in freedom. Give us courage, energy, and humility to embrace those among us who we too easily label as “other”. Give us the power to do our part to bring these words to fruition: “Let violence be gone; let the day come soon when evil shall give way to goodness, when war shall be forgotten, hunger be no more, and all at last shall live in freedom.”

When we all hearken to these words, we know that “justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)

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