A little bit of Torah to bring in Shabbat! - From your Penn State Hillel Staff
D’var Torah – literally a “word of Torah,” a lesson or sermon interpreting a text, which can be delivered by anyone reflects a fundamental Jewish belief in the infinite interpretive possibilities of Torah. This concept is best articulated in Mishnah Avot 5:22, “Turn it and turn it; for everything is in it,” and in the rabbinic assertion that each person who stood at Sinai saw a different face of Torah (myjewishlearning.com).
D’var by Rob France, Assistant Director
Earlier this week we honored the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Around the country, millions of Americans remembered his work through acts of service, engaging in dialogue, or simply honoring the legacy of a man who meant so much to so many. Yet, as we move away from Dr. King’s actions and impact, we are left with a blunted view of his radicalism. We are left with a vision of Dr. King as convener and cooperator. These were not words used to describe Dr. King in the 1960s. He was a radical. He asked for equality not at some undetermined date, but in the here and now. He demanded it from White Americans who were not willing to move on Dr. King’s timetable, accusing him of being a rabble-rouser, communist, and a threat to American values. It cost him his life, and as we move away from his death, his legacy is threatened by a whitewashing of his work.
Dr. King often derived inspiration from Judaism’s great Prophet, Moses, who we meet in this week’s Torah portion. In his final speech, “The Mountaintop,” delivered in Memphis the day before his assassination, Dr. King proclaims his wish to have seen the day when the ancient Hebrews left Egypt with their freedom in hand, walking towards the promised land. The “Mountaintop” Dr. King evokes is Mt. Sinai, where he could view the past of the Israelites and the future of Black Americans walking towards their freedom. In this week’s Torah portion, we begin to see the parallels between the two historic leaders and our two parallel narratives.
In this Torah portion, Moses asks Pharoah for freedom – not at some point in the future. Today. The Pharoah calls Moses a distraction. Indeed, it seems all of Egypt is irritated by Moses’s requests. Before the Israelites’ freedom, life gets harder for them. They are mistreated. They are beaten. You can almost imagine what this would look like had it been televised. It would look like the beatings taken by activists crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma. It would look like Birmingham police shooting people with fire hoses. It would look like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel sitting in a jail cell. Moses, like Dr. King, was a radical. They both dared to move the world towards God’s vision of equality for all. They dared to do so on a timeline that was inconvenient and completely necessary. They both paid an enormous price.
We are entering a new era in our country’s history. The number of hate crimes against Muslims, Blacks, and Jews continues to rise. The progress towards equality stands threatened by those who seek to cast blame for society’s ills at the hands of the disadvantaged. What do the struggles of Dr. King and Moses teach us? It teaches us that we must sing the song of Freedom, even in the face of opposition. It teaches us though the arc of the moral universe is long and bends towards Justice, sometimes you must bend it yourself. It means standing for what is right, especially when others would seek to sit you down. Now more than ever we need leadership in the vein of Dr. King and Moses. In the absence of a prophet of our own, may we take the call to leadership ourselves