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Moses, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Freedom #437

07/12/2016 07:05:30 PM

Jul12

Moses, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Freedom #437

On New Year's Eve, my wife and I were settled in front of our television, champagne in hand, about to celebrate the coming of 2016.
 
With barely five minutes left before midnight, hosts on CNN called upon their reporter stationed in the heart of Manhattan to ask some of those gathered to share their New Year's "hopes and dreams."
 
"What's your wish for 2016?" the reporter asked a young girl of about ten.
 
"I'd like a new iPhone," she replied. This was clearly not the answer the reporter was looking for. She walked deeper into the crowd and approached a tall middle aged fellow holding a little boy on his shoulders.
 
"What's your hope for the new year?" she posed.
 
"I'd like to buy a boat," replied the man. Everyone around him cheered.
 
I sighed and changed the channel. A reporter from a local station was asking the same question. "What's your wish for 2016?" he inquired. The answers were on the same line: a Caribbean cruise, a new car, a lottery win.
 
Many of these responses came from adults with children on their shoulders, or within earshot. And I asked myself, "What's happened to us? What examples are we setting for the next generation?"
 
Tradition tells us that, particularly when our children are by our side, we must model the giving of Tzedakah (charity) so that we reinforce the Jewish imperative to "share your bread with the hungry, take the wretched poor into your home, and when you see the naked, cloth them." (Isaiah 58:7).
 
Modelling selfless behavior, and giving thanks for the blessings of our lives, has been a central Jewish concept which for thousands of years has been transmitted L'Dor V'Dor, from generation to generation.
 
In many ways, it begins with this week's Torah portion, titled Bo (Go). After Egypt is afflicted with an initial seven plagues, God directs Moses to "Go to Pharaoh," and demand that he "Let our people go to worship God in the wilderness."
 
Pharaoh agrees to only release the Israelite men, but Moses replies that the deal must also include young people, seniors, men and women. Pharaoh refuses.
 
We know the rest from the Passover Seder. Three additional plagues arrive: locusts, darkness, and the death of the first born. After the tenth plague, a defeated Pharaoh agrees to set the Israelites free.
 
But that is only the beginning.
 
God makes two major pronouncements. First, God commands that the month of Jewish liberation, which would eventually be known as Nissan, be designated as "first of the months of the year for you."
While Rosh Hashanah may mark the creation of humankind, the Torah tells us, our true new year was marked at the moment our national freedom was realized.
 
God makes an additional request. God commands that, aside from eating matzah and practicing other holiday rituals, the Israelites must never forget how precious freedom is.
 
"You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and your descendants." (Exodus 12:24)
 
The idea of freedom is central to who we are.
 
It is so vital to Jewish identity that throughout history we have strived to protect and nurture it within our own realm, and to ensure that it is extended to others on this earth.
 
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched the streets of Selma and Montgomery more than sixty years ago, young Jewish students, many of whom bused down from northern states, walked with him. 
 
For we, as Jews, maintain that there can be no freedom or justice for us, until there is freedom and justice for all. And we must teach that prime principle to our children.
 
Indeed, do we teach our children that freedom is an entitlement or a privilege? Do we model that life involves a lust for material gain - or do we, with our children and grandchildren on our shoulders, reinforce the idea that the Jewish journey has, and will forever be, concerned with the never-ending pursuit of freedom?
 
England's former chief rabbi Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once wrote:
 
"Freedom needs three institutions: parenthood, education, and memory. You must tell your children about slavery and the long journey to liberation. They must annually taste the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slave labor. They must know what oppression feels like if they are to fight against it in every age."
 
Too many of our children grow up trained to "look out for number one." Too few are aware that they live within the context of humanity. Too many are insulated from the social problems plaguing our world. Too few appreciate freedom.
 
We are still three months away from the celebration of Pesach, a time to re-dedicate ourselves to freedom, for ourselves and for others.
 
But this week, as we commemorate the life and struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and as we read the story of Passover in our weekly Torah portion, we are reminded that each of us bears a responsibility to teach our children, as we were instructed by our own parents, to be a freedom fighter.
 
Next year, when our children are asked what their hopes are for 2017, may they have the insight and the sensitivity to reply, "I wish for peace and freedom for the entire world."
 
It's a worthwhile exercise, as we sit down to the table during this extended weekend, to ask our children and grandchildren, "What can we learn from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? What similarities are there to Moses and the Jewish journey?"
 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in many synagogues during the 1960s, emphasizing the connection between the Jewish people and African-Americans.  With rabbis at his side, he taught that Jews and African Americans have suffered, and that together we much continue to pursue peace and freedom.
 
If we pass that teaching, acquired from our parents, to our children, we will not only remind ourselves how lucky we are to be free, but we will also move one step closer to our national dream of Tikun Olam, the repair of this broken world.
 
And then, in the words of Dr. King.
 
"When this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
 
                Free at last! Free at last!
                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
 
Indeed, may freedom ring in our lives. May freedom ring for all.
 
Shabbat shalom. V'kol tuv (with all goodness).
 
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780