Pesach is coming! We are almost 2 months away from celebrating our own particular story of Freedom.
Year after year we join our families to fulfil a central commandment of our tradition.
“In each and every generation one must view oneself as though each one of us personally left Egypt”.
The process of leaving Egypt is a continuous event. The Torah teaches us that the first steps of the journey from oppression to liberation took 40 years wandering in the wilderness.
The Exodus narrative became a paradigm through which political and sociological events have been located and understood, not only to us, but to many other communities that relate to this text in a serious and personal way.
Egypt becomes a symbol of systemic oppression and the Israelites crossing the sea a sign of a long walk towards liberation.
I learned this week from a dear friend and teacher, Rabbi Morris Panitz, about how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the Exodus narrative to express his ideas of Love, Justice and Equality.
In 1956, on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s school desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a sermon at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine entitled, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore.”
As we celebrate his legacy this week, I would like to share some of his own words to inspire us to fulfil our mission as a religious community who aspires to the same ideals of Love, Justice and Equality.
He delivered, “This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It symbolizes something much deeper than the drowning of a few men, for no one can rejoice at the death or the defeat of a human person. This story, at bottom, symbolizes the death of evil. It was the death of inhuman oppression and ungodly exploitation. The death of the Egyptians upon the seashore is a glaring symbol of the ultimate doom of evil in its struggle with good.”
In this week’s parasha, Bo, we read the Exodus narrative. It says that together with the Israelites, a mixed multitude of people left with them. Not just Jews, but others living under duress saw the opportunity and joined the movement for liberation.
Our Exodus narrative starts with God paying attention to the cry of the Israelites under Egyptian oppression and appointing Moshe as leader, so the divine good can drive out the inherent evil that human power can create.
We have not yet finished the journey towards liberation. Just like the decades wandering in the wilderness, the pursuit for racial justice in America, is longer than it should be.
I share with you now Dr. King’s concluding words of that same speech in 1956:
“This is our hope. This is the hope and conviction that all men of goodwill live by. It is at bottom the conviction that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that the whole cosmic universe has spiritual control. (…)
Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed, and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love.
Let us remember that as we struggle against Egypt, we must have love, compassion and understanding goodwill for those against whom we struggle, helping them to realize that as we seek to defeat the evils of Egypt we are not seeking to defeat them but to help them, as well as ourselves.”
May we all rejoice the opportunity to help each other with Love, instead of celebrating their defeat.
May we find the divine strength to keep pursuing Justice for all.
May we live in a society where we are all truly unique and equal, as God have created us all in the divine image.