Blog  MLK and Mi Chamocha: How We Seek Freedom by Challenging the Status Quo

MLK and Mi Chamocha: How We Seek Freedom by Challenging the Status Quo

On January 18-21, 2019, NFTY-MAR came together in Wakefield, VA for Winter Kallah. This D’var Torah written by Danielle Hazan 


“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

When Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963 and delivered these opening words to his I Have a Dream speech, he didn’t know what was coming next. More oppression? Violence? Perhaps progress?

MLK was a trailblazer. He paved the way for advances among African-Americans in the United States. But, he has also has continued to be a perfect example of how to fight for what one believes in, and how to truly make change.

It is so fitting that Winter Kallah, MLK Weekend, and this week’s Parsha, Beshalach, all line up. Not only do they all fall on the same week this year, but the portion and King’s speech parallel one another. Beshalach represents freedom, as it here in the Torah that the Mi Chamocha originates, but it also represents pushing forward in the face of struggle. The parsha begins with the Israelites escaping across the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s army follows, but gets drowned as they try and cross.

MLK continues in his speech,

“And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

After the journey through the Sea of Reeds, and as MLK writes, the marching ahead, the Israelites begin to complain. They even go so far to say as they want to return to Egypt, as at least they had food and water there. But Moses, and MLK, say they cannot turn back. Then, God instructs the Israelites to gather and prepare on the sixth day food needed for Shabbat.

MLK notes,

“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

In this case, the thirst of the Israelites is not just water, but as MLK compares, it is a thirst for freedom. They may have escaped, but now they are stuck with nowhere to go and no food around. The cup of bitterness and hatred, going back to Egypt, would be easy to drink from, but no, that is not the correct route. And, if the Israelites continue,

MLK writes

“This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning: “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

MLK was a minister, so the uncanny parallels between his speech and Moses leading the Israelites are not unfathomable. MLK’s speech was almost a d’var in its own right. His ability to make the teachings of the Torah relevant without the blatant comparison between the two is incredible. But, what is even more awesome is the present-day relevance of Beshalach, and by extension MLK’s I Have a Dream.

The Israelites have gotten comfortable with the known, even though it wasn’t ideal, they still want to return to Egypt for a sense of security. For many of us, this longing for security is familiar, including for me. I have found a home at Kutz these past two summers, so when it announced that this summer will be its final one, I felt lost. However, over the past few months I have come to realize that Kutz has given me a sense of security. The exact same is true for NFTY. NFTY is my home, it has been since Freshman year and it will be into the future. But for us seniors, we only have 3 events left. Our NFTY security blanket will be disappearing and our experiences beyond high school, whether it is college or another venture, will be something completely new.

MLK helps to teach us to not get caught in staying with what we know. He teaches us more than just expanding our status quo. He teaches making change in the situation we are faced with. It is our duty as descendants of Moses, students of MLK, and as moral people, to challenge what we know, to seek what is right, and discover the truth.

As MLK closes in I Have a Dream, that when we challenge the status quo, when we expand from what we know, and when we seek what is right,

“ we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”