Monday, January 15, 2007

DVAR TORAH: Shemot (The Prince and the King... and the Heschel)

This weekend we read (past tense reading of the word "read") Parashat Shemot (or Parshas Sh'mos if you so choose), the first portion of the Second Book of the Torah, also of the same name. In it we learn of a world of constraint (Mitzrayim) where people are enslaved just because they are seen as different, as inferior, as dangerous! In the midst of this is born a boy, his life in constant mortal peril who climbs the eschalons of power and tests the newfound waters of civil disobedience, quotes God who demands the liberation of His people. (The boy is Moses, by the way, if you didn't know)

How appropriate that we also celebrate the birth and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. He was born into a world where he and his people, though released from enslavement on paper a century before were nonetheless subjugated and enslaved in the United States through inequality and segregation. He quoted God and Prophet, Moses, he idolized, for his resoluteness and not backing down when threatened by :The Man" in Egypt.

The Jews and the African-Americans have a common experience. We were both slaves in the Land of Egypt, though even after we were freed, we still faced the tribulations second-class citizenry -- at the times we were actually considered citizens. It is for this reason, perhaps, not only as Jews, but as decent human beings have taken up the call of civil rights. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who, had he not died at the young age of 65 would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past week, marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery.
(Picture: King: Fourth from right Heschel: second from right)

Why then have the relationships between African Americans and Jews so deteriorated in Los Angeles? I posed this question last week, among others, to the retired Pastor of the First AME Methodist Church of Los Angeles, Rev. Cecil L. "Chip" Murray, who answered that the Jews have moved away from the urban centers, away from the innercity, and have held open the doors in the suburbs for the African-American community, which has not yet responded. Though we may acquire greatness (this is me talking now), we must remember one of the key messages repeated again and again and again, always "remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt". Be humble but be strong and resolute. Like The Prince of Egypt and the Doctor King, you too can change the world.

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