Monday, January 20, 2014

Moshe & Martin's Legacy

Parshat Mishpatim
Shmot 21:1-24:18
24 Shevat 5774 / Jan. 24 – 25, 2014

Moshe & Martin's Legacy
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

How fitting that on Martin Luther King Day, we open to the week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, and read the words (21:2),

"When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment."

There are other places in the Torah that speak more to the type of slavery that African Americans endured - people as property.  Though I think the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. can be noted in the connected with the verse (21:5),

"But if the slave declares, 'I love my master...I do not wish to go free.'"

We are witnessing here a condition in which an individual internalizes a slave mentality,  and in tandem, other individuals internalizing a master mentality.

Martin Luther King Jr. articulated a waxing vision in which both mentalities, slave and master, can be released and people can see each other through eyes of equal power. This is a HUGE pronouncement - that it can even be possible to shift out of our protective power hierarchies. But as we see in our day to day live, in the change of demographics in the world around us, it is possible!

Modern Jewish people, especially in the United States have made an interesting shift, from a Holocaust-centered power-less mentality, to a land owning and white-privilege bearing power-full mentality. In this new role it is incumbent upon us, dictated by Jewish values too, to remember that we were slaves once and to protect those that might be struggling to be freed from and release their internalized powerlessness.

We can learn about micro-aggression and watch out for subtle behaviors that perpetuate a system of inequality. We can also take larger actions, advocating for equity in education and progressive taxation measures. So much has been done since Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream with the world. Today we can reflect on what is still left to be done and how we can use our power to move the world toward that vision. 


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