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Rabbi Lisa's Message

January 17, 2024

In Torah time, we are in the thick of the Exodus story. In this week’s Parasha, Bo, we learn 

of the final 3 plagues, which grow in magnitude and impact from the first seven we learned about in last week’s Torah portion. These plagues come in response to Pharaoh’s refusal to free the Hebrew slaves.  How fascinating to consider this story in relation to where we are on the secular calendar.

This past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Together, in community, we read what is perhaps his most important and well known speech, I Have a Dream. Dr. King’s words are stirring, powerful, inspiring. The I Have a Dream speech brings us a sense of hope and the feeling that no matter how bleak the situation at hand, we have the power to dream. Perhaps even more importantly, we have the power to dream collectively.

One of the questions we considered is, how far have we come from the time when this speech was first delivered, August 28, 1963. In many ways we have come a long way. We have learned so much about racism, and all the other -isms that marginalize members of our human family. We have come to understand systems of oppression. And many of us have come to understand our own privilege and power and how we may be unconsciously perpetuating the very systems of oppression that we stand up and speak out against. 

We also spoke of how much further we have to go, and how the pursuit of equity and a just society requires ongoing, diligent work. Freedom is fragile and we need to take care of it. It can disappear very quickly. If we let up, even a little bit, the possibility of taking many steps backward in a short period of time is likely, and perhaps even inevitable. We shared how painfully relevant this feels regarding the skyrocketing increase in antisemitism. 

We ended hopefully, positively. We wove together Dr. King’s words along with those of 1st century sage, Rabbi Tarfon creating this tapestry of inspiration:

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.  

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." 

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. do justly now love, mercy now, walk humbly now. you are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. 

- Rabbi Tarfon commenting on Micah 6:8

Indeed, this work is ongoing and we are not free to abandon it. And we must remember that its heft does not rest SOLELY upon our own individual shoulders. Self care is paramount!!! This is the work of community, humanity. All of us together. In our own spheres of influence, Torah values obligate us to leverage our privilege in ways that elevate those on the margins. We are commanded repeatedly to not oppress the stranger, to welcome the stranger, to love the stranger.

We honor Dr. King and his legacy by sharing in his dream, made all the more real and close to us when we dream it together.

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