Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is This Night Different From All Others?

The Passover seder is a time for questions.  Beyond the traditional four of the Mah Nishtanah, we encourage participants to be inquisitive about the circumstances surrounding this holiday.  Four times in the Torah, the text tells us that children for generations to come will ask about the meaning of this day (giving rise to the legend of the four children), so ask we must!

This year, I find myself asking a different sort of question, inspired by--yet transcending--the traditional Passover texts.  I am wondering what it will take, how many commemorations of our Festival of Freedom we will need to observe, before all individuals on this planet will enjoy the same freedoms, the same opportunities, the same hope and optimism for the future.

Yesterday was the yahrtzeit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  If you are a student of history, you may recall that Dr. King happened to be in Memphis, where his life tragically ended, in support of African-American sanitation workers who were on strike for better working conditions.  Presciently, Dr. King delivered what has come to be known as his "Mountaintop Speech," highlighting the achievements that had already been won, while also looking forward to the future that he recognized he might not be around to see.

Dr. King said, in part:
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...if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed...We aren't engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying -- We are saying that we are God's children. And that we are God's children, we don't have to live like we are forced to live.
The problems that Dr. King preached about in the Civil Rights movement are problems that defined the relationship between Egyptians and Israelites in the days leading up to the Exodus; they define the conflict between those who support George Zimmerman and those who support Trayvon Martin; they define the upcoming presidential election in this country and they define politics on the global stage.

And the question remains, what will you do, what will each of us do, to shift the discussion, to change the problem.  How can this night indeed be different from all other nights?

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