A wise man once said:
[I]f I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental ight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there… [King touches on several other historical periods: Greece, Rome, the Renaissance, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, and FDR.]
Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. at’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding…
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared these words in his Mountaintop Speech in Memphis, his last public speech, on April 3, 1968, he was calling on all people to stand up and take a stand. He continued:
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world…
Are we ready to heed the call?
When a group of men, gathered at Congregation Or Ami‘s Men’s Night Out, sat in chevruta (small group learning), we took up Dr. King’s challenge. We considered “What are our responsibilities as men to our community, our country and or world?”
I wish you could have been there. Men living in different political, economic and social realities talked, listened and affirmed there dreams they shared. Their responses moved me:
- We must learn to listen more openly, especially to those we disagree with.
- We need to turn down the rhetoric and turn up the compromise.
- We need to expand educational opportunities for all.
- Let’s spend more time getting involved in our communities, pairing our devotion to our work with our commitment to our world.
- Even on Israel, we must find a way to open up our synagogues to opinions which are different, are radical, that scare us and worry us. Because listening is what will create a better future for all.
- And we must remember that a healthy community embraces people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, opinions, religions and more.
We also recalled that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us about the nature of humanity. He said,
In several ways man [sic] is set apart from all beings created in six days. The Bible does not say, God created the plant or the animal; it says, God created different kinds of plants, different kinds of animals (Genesis 1: 11 12, 21-25). In striking contrast, it does not say, God created different kinds of man, men of different colors and races; it proclaims, God created one single man. From one single man all men are descended. To think of man in terms of white, black, or yellow is more than an error. It is an eye disease, a cancer of the soul.
As we learn from Genesis, we were all – ALL – created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image). Everyone. Thus, we strive to embrace all people.
And we take care with our words. Let us never forget the people who we don’t know or don’t know well. Remember that we rarely know what’s going on in the life of another. Who is fighting a terrible disease and who is struggling financially. Whose child is struggling with special learning challenges and whose parent is struggling to remember as the haze of Alzheimer’s disease descends. Whose family embraces those others condemn: a gay son, an African-American daughter in law, a mentally ill brother, a Muslim sister. A homeless relative, an addicted loved one. We want to be careful about who we stereotype and who we scapegoat because the people we disparage may be the family member of the person next to us.
On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, we reminded ourselves: One person began the world. One person can repair the world.
As Dr. King dreamed almost fifty years ago, we men – and women too – have the ability and the responsibility to stand up for moderation, openness and peace.
With thanks to:
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism: HEARTS AND MINDS: A Model Discussion About Racial Justice for Reform Congregations and Communities
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights: Sermon Sparks for Shabbat Vayechi & Dr. Martin Luther King Day