In this week’s Parsha, Va’era, Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh of Egypt and declare, “Let My People Go!” While this demand is not immediately met by Pharoah, Moses and Aaron continue in their pursuit for freedom. They protest, and rally, and never give up. They continue to confront Pharaoh until what they have set out to do, as commanded by God, is achieved. Ultimately, we know that Moses leads his people to freedom, ending several centuries of enslavement in Egypt.
On Monday, MLK Jr. Day, we gathered at CBI to read the very last speech Dr. King delivered, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. In much the same way Moses confronted Pharaoh as an oppressor, Dr. King also stood up to the modern Pharaoh of our time, echoing the same redemption cry, “Let My People Go.” Like Moses, Dr. King did not give up. He pushed and pushed and pushed.
Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to civil rights–freedom and equality for all people. He spoke of a similar dream that Moses envisioned for the Israelites. Both fought for the human rights and dignity of their people. Neither could rest until freedom came.
Every year at Passover we retell the Exodus story, which begins in this week’s Parasha. During the seder we say, “In every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt.” We remember the bitterness of slavery so that we don’t turn our backs on those in our current generation who experience injustice of any kind. This is central to Torah.
We read in the Haggadah: Avadim Hayinu, ata b’nei horin. We were slaves in Egypt and now we are free. Our freedom is felt more fully because we know the experience of oppression. And knowing what oppression is, we have a responsibility to fight for justice.
As Bernice Johnson Reagon expressed in Ella’s song: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
This is what Dr. King taught us. This is what Torah teaches us. As Jews, we are commanded to pursue justice, to not oppress the stranger. Dr. King’s dream has not yet been fully realized.
Aleinu. It is upon us to pick up where he left off.